BOSTON -- Jerry Stackhouse has been playing professional basketball for a long time. Stackhouse debuted in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers on Nov. 3, 1995, the same day the Fleet Center (the current home of the Boston Celtics, now called TD Garden) opened, and that just happened to be where Stackhouse suited up last Wednesday night.
Stackhouse is no longer with the Sixers, though. Those days are long gone. In fact, since playing his first game, Stackhouse has played for six different teams, scored more than 16,000 points and played in two All-Star games along the way.
Nowadays, the 37-year-old calls Atlanta his NBA home, even if it may only be temporary. Not quite ready to call it a career just yet, Stackhouse signed a one-year deal with the Hawks on Dec. 12, 2011, marking his 17th season playing on basketball's highest stage.
"I've probably been thinking about retiring probably the last couple two, three seasons, but when September and October rolls around you get that itch again, and like hey, let's go back at it," Stackhouse said before his team's game against Boston. "Somebody still appreciates your service, so I'm going to do it until the wheels fall off."
Stackhouse had to wait a few more months than usual to start his season, with the NBA lockout eating into the 2011-12 season. He didn't play much at the beginning of the season, but started to receive more significant minutes in late February, and he has played somewhat more consistently since.
Naturally, the numbers aren't the same for Stack, who could once be counted on to score at least 20 per night (he averaged 29.8 points in 80 games with the Detroit Pistons in 2000-01). As of Monday afternoon, Stackhouse is averaging 3.7 points and 0.8 rebounds this season. Instead, the veteran swingman brings other valuable assets to the table, namely experience and leadership.
"He's been phenomenal," Hawks head coach Larry Drew said about Stackhouse. "He still has that competitive drive, and I know he wants to play. When he has played, he has played very well for us. But in the locker room, he has really done a great job with our group. That was one of the things we really wanted to improve in over the offseason, as far as our bench and making sure we got some guys in that locker room that could kind of police the locker room a bit and take on the responsibility in the locker room and help our younger guys, and he's done that. He's been a guy, as I said, I know he wants to play and he still has that competitive drive in him, but [it's] the unfortunate part ... we are a pretty deep team. But what he has done in the locker room has been phenomenal, and I'm very happy that we did bring him on board."
Stackhouse knows he's looked upon as a leader on this team, and it is a role that he embraces.
"(If) you've been around almost 20 years, if you're not leading or trying to be an example then something's wrong. It's just a matter of keeping guys on the even keel. You can't get too high, too low. It's kind of cliché-ish, but we're human. Guys lose confidence. Basketball is a game of confidence. Just from a veteran or leadership standpoint, continuing to instill confidence in the group is always kind of a good thing and bodes well for your team. That's what I try to do even when I'm not active or playing, just trying to be on the bench and make sure that we stay positive. I think the coaches and the players appreciate that."
Of course, Stackhouse would love to play more, being the fierce competitor that he is. Still, he will gladly do what's needed of him, especially come playoff time.
"Every NBA player, you always feel like you can contribute a little bit more," said Stackhouse. "But as a role player, you try to take what's given to you and hopefully at some point help the team. I think the playoffs are, there might be a situation where our veteran guys will get to come in and hopefully pull out a game here and there. So I'm still looking forward to the possibility of what we can bring in the (postseason) as opposed to what we brought so far."
The fact that Stackhouse is still healthy and playing professional basketball is a testament to his drive to stay in shape, but being a gym rat doesn't always mean a player will avoid injury. Stackhouse has been able to avoid serious injury during his career, and for that he is thankful.
"I'm just thankful man, God's been blessing me. He's blessed me to stay healthy for the most part. Everybody has little knicks and knacks here and there, but for the most part I've been healthy. I love to play, I love to compete. I work out pretty much year round, so it doesn't really stop for me. I may take off a little bit of time after the season. But shortly thereafter, I just get the itch to be back in the gym working out with kids or playing and you know coaching a little bit now and doing some stuff with AAU teams, stuff like that. I stay active, and I think that's the key. Once you stop, it's hard. But if you keep yourself going, keep yourself active."
Young players, take note. If you want to have a long and prosperous career, just ask yourself this question: What would Stack do?