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OAKLAND, Calif. – The Golden State Warriors' Carl Landry was driving to the Oracle Arena as quickly as he could on a late Saturday afternoon, knowing that he might be suspended or fined by coach Mark Jackson. Upon Landry's 15-minute late arrival to a pregame walk-through, Jackson told Landry to take part in the session while in street clothes. Jackson didn't ask for an explanation for the tardiness. Once it was over, Landry apologized to Jackson and his teammates and promised such a mistake would never happen again. Landry received no fine and played in the Warriors' 101-83 victory over the Boston Celtics last month.
Warriors players say that Jackson's understanding of human error, refusal to curse and degrade them, and the team's family atmosphere are the top reasons he's beloved by them. And the team has rewarded its second-year coach this season with a 23-13 record, the franchise's best start since the 1991-92 campaign. The NBA's biggest surprise – a group Jackson calls "dangerous" with or without Andrew Bogut, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury – seeks a season sweep of the Miami Heat on Wednesday night at home.
"Usually, a coach will fine you or limit your minutes for that game or possibly not even play you," Landry said. "I've been in situations like that before where some of my teammates got fined, suspended or whatever the case may be. But Coach just said we accept your apology and don't let it happen again. We got by it, we ended up winning.
"But nobody is perfect. There are going to be times where other guys might be late or things might happen. It's not perfect, but coach Jackson is just a cool coach. He knows I didn't do it intentionally and he just let it go."
To understand Jackson's coaching style, you have to go back nearly 22 years when he caused a stir in New York after publicly criticizing then-Knicks interim coach John MacLeod, who relegated him to backup with limited minutes behind veteran Maurice Cheeks. In response, Jackson said that MacLeod and then- general manager Al Bianchi "pointed their finger at my chest, cussed me out and disrespected me" while he stretched with teammates before a practice.
Jackson responded by cursing at them, Bianchi told New York reporters back then, a charge Jackson denies to this day. The Knicks gave Jackson a two-game suspension without pay for insubordination. Jackson said he eventually got his money back after an investigation was done when Dave Checketts later became president of the Knicks and Pat Riley was coach.
"You live and you learn," Jackson said. "I'm not sitting here and telling you I was perfect. I was a young guy who wasn't playing as much as I should. But I've always played for coaches whose daily routine was to cuss a guy out. I just don't agree with it."
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Jackson has kept that same frame of mind as the Warriors' coach.
"I'm never going to hang them out to dry," Jackson said. "I'm never going to point the finger. I'm going to tell the truth.
"I never got it, even as a player, how a coach can cuss a player out or disrespect him and I'm a grown man with a wife and kids. But I'm out of line if I do the same thing to you? You can make the point just by talking to me.
"And I think many times coaches have gone over the line like there are no rules. I don't conduct my daily life that way so I'm not going to conduct my job that way. I got too much love and respect for my guys to be disrespectful in any way. They appreciate it, respect it and will run through a wall because they know I care about them."
Jackson played in the NBA for 17 seasons, amassing the third most assists in league history (10,334). But a younger generation knows Jackson more for his seven-year stint as a TV color analyst. After missing out on several coaching jobs, the Warriors hired Jackson in 2011, despite Jackson's lack of coaching experience.
The Warriors' David Lee was skeptical about the hiring, but said he was won over on Day 1, and says all the players believe in him now.
"He had that very confident arrogant attitude as a commentator that made him so entertaining," Lee said. "I didn't know when I came into training camp what to expect off the court. But he couldn't be further from that. He is a guy who not only asks for input from his players, but he is also a friend to each one of us off the court.
"I never second-guess what coach says because he's not the type of guy who talks to hear his own voice or make speeches or says stuff to pump himself up. Everything he does is for a meaning. I couldn't ask for a better coach and I hope he's here for a long time."
Jackson made noise quickly by stating that the rebuilding Warriors would make the playoffs despite having one postseason appearance since 1995. The young and injury-riddled Warriors finished 25-41 during a lockout-shortened season. Jackson never regretted his prediction.
"The tone had to be set and I was willing to take the hit," Jackson said.
A key reason for the Warriors' improvement is Jackson had a true training camp to instill his philosophy. While Jackson credits a better roster, Warriors general manager Bob Myers sees improvement in his coach.
"I think he's grown," Myers said. "He got comfortable with the job and the personnel we gave him. But in some ways it's easier for a coach to put his stamp on a younger team than a more veteran team."
Jackson has a "win and rest" policy in which the players always get the next day off if they win. After victories, most of the players end up coming in to shoot and prepare for the next game.
The players have willingly accepted Jackson like a respected uncle they don't want to disappoint. Many of them attended a service at his Los Angeles church on an off day this season.
"He has a presence that is very gravitating and inviting," Jarrett Jack said. "You have some coaches who have an open-door policy, but you say, 'I ain't going in there.' I think it's opposite here. I think everyone, one through 15, feels comfortable talking to him regardless to whether it's serious or playfully joking around. I can't say I've ever been on a team where that many guys, one through 15, feel comfortable."
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