Last night marked a rather run-of-the-mill regular season matchup between the Spurs and the Clippers. The Spurs continued their run as team with the best record and absolutely crushed the Clippers in L.A.
But for Stephen Jackson, it was more than that. For him, it was emotional therapy. Last week, he learned his wife, Renata, had lost their child, whom she had been carrying for more than six months, as the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Monroe reports.
After coach Gregg Popovich told Jackson to take off whatever time he needed, he cut his road trip off early to return home.
Though Jackson said nothing can salve the pain of losing a child that would have been the first for the couple, who married in 2011, he believes playing basketball and being around teammates will be therapeutic.
"I'm as good as I can be," Jackson said before Thursday's Spurs-Clippers game at Staples Center. "I'm happy to be back with the team. I need to be back with the team, just for my own sanity. Basketball and being around these guys helps me a lot, so it's definitely something I needed."
"My wife is not doing too well, so I'm happy I had a coach like Pop who gave me the time to be with her. In order for me to help her I also have to help myself because this was a baby we were definitely looking forward to having. Being back with the team hopefully is going to help me be able to help my wife even more."
Jackson said daily phone calls from Spurs captain Tim Duncan and support from other members of the Spurs family, from owner Peter Holt to general manager R.C. Buford and broadcaster Sean Elliott, have helped him cope.
"The family atmosphere of this organization is one of a kind," he said. "Luckily, I'm on this Spurs team while I'm going through this situation because it's definitely helpful being around these guys."
It's impossible to fathom the difficulty he and his family must be facing right now as they endure such heartbreak. Thankfully, the Spurs have been a fantastic family in their own right to help Jackson and offer him their support, from owner Peter Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to his teammate Tim Duncan.
With any luck, returning to the game he loves will give him some reprieve from the emotional distress.
When I worked with the Charlotte Bobcats as an intern in 2011, I had the opportunity to interact with the often-controversial small forward.
His reputation precedes him. Many players know him as the best teammate they've ever had. Many people think they know him as a "thug." The public perception really couldn't be much further from the truth, as far as I'm concerned.
That summer, I was on assignment as he and some other Bobcats led a Special Olympics basketball clinic at a local athletic club. Never have I seen someone so comfortable around people of all walks of life. As he walked through the halls to the courts, he randomly popped into aerobics classes, dancing to the spin class' music before moving on. And then he led the clinic, as warm a person I've ever met, helping everyone until they succeeded.
His love for the game is so deep, but perhaps the biggest thing he gets out of it is the feeling of family. After losing his brother at a young age, everything changed for him. "From that point on, he has been a giving person," his mother Judy Jackson once said. "He's more generous than I am." Considering the tragedy, it makes sense that Jackson feels a close, almost familial bond with the teammates he spends hours upon hours with in the gym. Affronts on them are affronts on his family, so there's no way he won't stand up to protect them, for better or for worse.
Unfortunately, some of the most prominent events of this are also the most embarrassing. The Malice in the Palace. Firing a gun outside a strip club. In hindsight and through other eyes, these reactions can be seen in poor judgment. But for Jackson, these were simply acts of protecting family who he felt were endangered by raucous fans or club patrons.
For years and years, Jackson has needed basketball to fill a void in his life. He's needed it to fulfill his incredible athletic talents, to provide him with the ability to reach out so many others, to be his family.
And now he needs it more than ever to help him heal.
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