After watching James Harden go 2-for-11 and turn the ball over six times in a Game 6 performance against the Spurs that was decidedly un-MVP-like, I, like a good many other people on the internet, had theories. He had to be hurt, right? Failing that he was in debt or he’d had his talent siphoned by Nerdlucks stacked in a trench coat just off the floor, behind the Houston bench. As to-the-point as ever, NBA legend Stephen Jackson’s theory about precisely what happened to the Rockets guard had way fewer steps, and nothing to do with anyone else: Harden just didn’t want it. "He was defeated before the game started, it looked like to me."
He further added that "you can’t win no championships without defense."
Jackson came by The Ringer office to talk briefly about Harden, but more about his swingman role in Ice Cube’s Big3 basketball league and what 3-on-3 between your favorite NBA retirees might be like. When Big3 officially tips off in late June, Jackson is going up against his best friend and former teammate Al Harrington in his first game. Searching for the right way to ask how many and what kind of #bars he’d have for Harrington when they lined up across from each other, I asked instead how much trash he planned on talking. I asked Stephen Jackson if he was going to talk trash. The response was about what you’d expect.
We also talked about the Warriors and the Spurs, but being that Jackson is also the rapper known as Stak5, who’s worked with Z-Ro, Killa Kyleon, Slim Thug, Lil Keke, and everyone else from Houston — and more importantly, is extremely from Port Arthur, Texas—
I’ll just come right out with it. … Do you have any UGK stories?
I have a great story about Pimp C.
He was fresh outta jail. First show was at a club called Bar Rio. It was actually All-Star weekend, I think. In Houston. We’d actually had a party, so when Pimp C got home he was looking for me, for some reason. He just wanted to be around me and he called me like, "Let’s do a show together." I remember going to the concert — we all in the back, and it’s packed because this is Pimp C and Bun [B]’s first show since Pimp got outta jail.
So the promoter had got this call from a rapper named Choppa. From Louisiana? You remember "Choppa Style"? He wasn’t supposed to perform, so he paid the owner $20,000 just to perform before us, because it was so packed in there. But when he got on stage, nobody wanted to hear the music, right? They was like, "Come on, we didn’t come here to see no Choppa."
They weren’t with bounce [as in, New Orleans bounce] music?
None of that. So they start throwing stuff at him. Him and like 20 people jumped off stage, fighting the audience, end up killing somebody, and we never made it to the stage, right? So the police come in the club talkin’ ’bout some shut the club down.
Pimp C walks onstage [note-perfect Pimp C voice], "TURN MY MUSIC ON. PUT MY SHIT ON." ’Cause he was so excited! He wanted to perform. He hadn’t performed in years. And it was packed. It was a beautiful night for Port Arthur, Texas. And we was in Houston, but we’re all from Port Arthur.
But [Pimp] started rapping and yelling, "TURN MY MUSIC ON," and cussing everybody out, then he dropped the mic and walked off stage. And that was my last time seeing him. That was my last time seeing him face to face.
A year or two later we’re driving from Oakland to Sacramento — the whole Warriors team — to Matt Barnes’s mom’s funeral. And I hear on the radio that Pimp C passed. I called Bun on the phone and found it was true. On the way to Matt Barnes’s mom’s funeral.
Wow. What was that one song he was performing that night in Houston?
I don’t really remember. Honestly, he was just talking a lot of shit. "Y’all kept saying, ‘Free Pimp C,’ well now the Pimp C free!" He was turning up!
He was hurt, though. He really wanted to perform that night. And I was too ’cause I wanted to see him perform.
Four years ago you spoke about the Malice at the Palace, and how it felt good to punch a fan. If you could punch a fan of any NBA team—
There’s been a lot of fans I wanted to punch in my life. Because they say the craziest things. Racial stuff, hurtful stuff. "YOUR MOM SHOULD BE DEAD," "I HATE YOUR CHILDREN," just … for no reason.
Now there’s one guy in Philadelphia.
76ers. He sits behind the bench and he has this little chalkboard. And he writes all kinds of stuff on it, and holds it up during timeouts, right? So this was after the brawl, in Indiana. [He wrote] "The All-Ghetto Team." He was writing nicknames he made up for all my teammates—
So you’d punch this guy??
Nah, man, it was hilarious, though. [Laughs] This guy I would never punch. He wasn’t really trying to demean anybody, it was all fun and games. But some fans? Yes. More than punch, you wanna stomp them out. There’s some fans you just wanna stomp out, man.
Let me say this, though: I would’ve never gone into the stands on my own. But defending a teammate? Like, if one of us goes outside, walking down the street, and somebody runs up? We’re gonna fight together against that person. That’s what I was taught. So I don’t regret that, at all. I’d do it again today.
You hit a bunch of 3s over your former New Jersey Nets in the fourth quarter of a clinching Finals win for the Spurs in 2003—
That felt good. The last one I hit, I held it up, and I just ran past the bench looking at Byron Scott like, "Look at that! Remember what you said? You remember what you said buddy? I’mma leave it up there for ya."
But you also said, after that performance, that you "make love to pressure." What kind of lover is pressure?
When I say I make love to pressure, I mean I’m confident in the face of anything. Anytime my back’s against the wall or the bright lights are on, or I’m at the free throw line, or you give me the ball, I make love to it the same way I do women.
And I know I’m great at that. When it’s that time, I’m showin’ up. And I’m gonna perform. So I’m the same way when I play basketball. I make love to pressure.
I just … I need a minute.
[Laughs] I’m a confident lover, man.
Having been both a Warrior and a Spur, would you say you’re more of a Warrior or a Spur at heart?
I’d say the Warriors because I’m a part of their family. I should feel that way with San Antonio since I got a championship there. I should feel more indebted to them. But the Warriors treated me more like family. They really appreciated the time I played there so, I’m more of a Warriors fan than anybody.
Not only because I played there but because they make me feel like family when I go there. Winning a championship in San Antonio — I have a banner in there so they should make me feel like family, but they don’t. I’m an outcast. Prodigal child — prodigal son.
How would you say the Warriors fan base has changed from the "We Believe" era to now?
We got the city back to believing this team could win. We got the city back to believing that "OK, we have an organization that we can get behind and support." The guys now just took it to a championship level. It was 13 years since any team [in the franchise] got to the playoffs before we did that, and we were able to beat a no. 1 seed.
So I feel like we had a hand in what’s going on now, but they’re on another level now. They took it and perfected it, and I’m glad I was able to have a hand in it.
So there was that ’03 Spurs team and the "We Believe" Warriors, but you’ve also played for other iconic teams, like the ’01 Nets and the ’04 Pacers. If you could choose another two players from any of those teams to play 3-on-3 with you — like in the Big3 — who would they be?
Well there’s actually five players on my team right now, all NBA players. It’s me, Larry Hughes, Reggie Evans, Brian Cook, but if I had two guys that I could pick to play with in the Big3? It would be my best friend, who I’m playing against in the first game, Al Harrington, and my second-favorite player to play with who’s not even in it, Baron Davis.
Tim Duncan’s my favorite, Baron Davis is my second-favorite player to play with.
This one’s just for me: When you hang out with Tim Duncan, what do y’all talk about?
Either we’re talking about paintball — actually, nine times out of 10 we’re playing paintball. He’s an action junkie. He has a lot of paintball guns. He’s probably got like 20 of them. All of those fast-shooting ones. He’s got a hair-trigger one where you pull it and, like, 30 balls come out.
He’s a die-hard Bears fan, and I’m a Cowboys fan so we argue about that all day. But if it’s not about basketball, if it’s not about paintball guns, or about PlayStation, he likes fast cars. That’s his thing. He has some real antique cars. Some really pretty fast cars.
What’s the prettiest one?
He had an older Porsche. I don’t know what year it was, but it was pretty fast.
For someone who’s just finding out about Big3 now, how would they go about seeing one of the games?
They can actually go to Ticketmaster now; the tickets are on sale. Most of the games are in NBA arenas. If you’re East Coast and you’re in Brooklyn, the first round of games is June 25 at the Barclays Center. And really, just Google, "Big3." Man, it’s everywhere. It’s blowing up.
Ice Cube’s behind the league. We have Roger Mason, who was part of the NBA Players Association, helping run it, so I’m excited, man. All you gotta do is buy a ticket and support it, and we’re gonna take care of everything else.
How much trash are you gonna talk to Al Harrington in the first game?
Let me tell you someth — that has to be a rhetorical question. Because we had a scrimmage in Vegas last week, and I got two techs. In the scrimmage. And me and Al were on the same team, so I couldn’t talk trash to him, but I was talking trash to Corey Maggette. And the referee.
The referee too?
Everybody. If you’re not on my team, I’m talking trash to you. Everybody can’t talk trash and play, but that’s something I’m good at.
Did you really say, "my daddy dead," when someone complained about you jawing?
Actually I heard somebody say, "Please don’t curse," and I said, "Look bruh. I buried my daddy last year, no one tells me what to say. I’m a grown ass man. I’mma say what the fuck I wanna say, when I wanna say it."
I got a technical, yes, I did. I got two in the scrimmage. But you know what happened?
What I did in high school, what I did overseas, what I did in the NBA. I am a winner. We won the game. I won on every level I played in. Why not in the Big3?