That time Gregg Popovich gave Stephen Jackson the choice between smoking weed and a championship

Nobody knows how to motivate Stephen Jackson quite like Gregg Popovich. (AP)
Nobody knows how to motivate Stephen Jackson quite like Gregg Popovich. (AP)

Stephen Jackson, aka Captain Jack, spent Wednesday in Bristol, Connecticut, so we were treated to more tales from a man who has admitted to never working out in the summer and smoking weed before games during his 14-year career. This time, he combined those two subjects into one incredible story.

In response to a question on Ryen Russillo’s radio show about his best summer league story, Jackson offered not just his best story, but the best story. Setting the scene, Captain Jack was a free agent wrapping up a successful Rocky Mountain Revue performance in Utah following his rookie year on the 2000-01 New Jersey Nets, and that’s when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich approached him.

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We’ll let him take it from there:

Jackson: “I remember playing great, and after the last game, we’re just sitting there, and Pop was like, ‘I need to talk to you.’ He was like, ‘Jack, you had a great summer league, you’re playing well, I really want you on my team, but there’s only one way you’re going to make my team: During the season, you can’t smoke weed, Jack. You just can’t do it. I need you focused. I need you on your game, because you know we have a chance to win a championship, and I need you focused.’

“And once he told me that, I shut it down. I shut it down. The NBA was way more important than weed. Trust me.”

Russillo: “So, you said, ‘That’s it’?”

Jackson: “Shut it down. I shut it down.”

Russillo: “And he believed you?”

Jackson: “I played two years there and won a championship. Everything he said was going to happen if I did my part — if I played defense, stopped smoking weed, I would win a championship, and I would be a starter on a championship team — and it all came true.”

Russillo: “So, does that mean if the next GM who signed you didn’t ask you that question, then that was not a rule you had to follow?”

Jackson: “We had to have that talk first. We had to have the talk first, you know what I mean? I know my role.”

True to form, Jackson started 58 games for the 2003 NBA champion Spurs, before joining the Atlanta Hawks in free agency. It is pretty great that Popovich’s scouting went deep enough to know he could get the best out of Captain Jack, so long as he wasn’t smoking weed, and it makes you wonder how many coaches at his other seven NBA stops would think to ask him not to smoke marijuana in season.

We do know former Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson was not one of them, because Jackson told us as much — and more — during an appearance on Michael Rapaport’s podcast this past January:

“We’re in Utah and the drug test people are around, you know, to get our last drug test so we can smoke, right? Don Nelson, we talked about weed all the time, he was cool with talking about weed. We got our last test in Utah, right? So me and Baron [Davis] are coming out the locker room just screaming, excited with our last pink slip saying we could smoke for the rest of the season and Don Nelson hauls ass down there giving us high-fives like, ‘yeah, we can smoke now!’ It was cool, the fact that he knows what’s going on off the court with his players, which was great man. We enjoyed it. That’s why we were a great team.”

We should probably note that Popovich owned a 2-0 record against Nelson-coached teams in the playoffs, including a six-game win over Nelson’s Dallas Mavericks in the 2003 Western Conference finals, which featured a breakout and lights-out 24-point effort by Jackson in the close-out game.

We should also note that Jackson openly admitted on Rapoport’s podcast to smoking weed before games, with mixed results ranging from “great games” to “some games where I smoked before the game and was on the bench after three minutes sitting on the sideline, ‘please calm down, this high has to calm down,’ I done shot three shots that went over the backboard, like, I’m going to be honest, like, ‘ahh, I gotta calm down.” So, yeah, maybe Popovich asking him to chill was a pretty good call.

Jackson’s afternoon on the ESPN campus didn’t end with this weed-related story on the “Russillo Show.” He later joined Rachel Nichols and Paul Pierce on “The Jump” and offered these great takes:

• On DeMarre Carroll dogging the Toronto Raptors on his way out the door: “You shouldn’t even have an input. You’re not good. You can shoot 3’s in the corner. He’s not good enough to have an opinion.”

• On Kyrie Irving saying the Cleveland Cavaliers are in “a very peculiar place” this summer: “First of all, let me say this: I’ve never used the word ‘peculiar.’ I had to ask what it meant. Weird. OK, weird.”

• On Ben Simmons tweeting emojis at LeBron James: “Philadelphia is definitely not the place. I don’t see that happening. I don’t even know why we’re even talking about that. He’d never go to Philly.”

• On Magic Johnson suggesting Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball getting triple-doubles in summer league means he’s going to get them during the regular season: “C’mon, Magic.”

Jackson also got Pierce to admit to burning his mother’s house down as a child and renting a llama for his daughter’s birthday as an adult, so all in all another fantastic afternoon on the mic for the same guy who explained the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2012 conference finals victory against his Spurs by saying, “Those motherf*****s were just better than us.” This man is a gift to NBA commentary, whether or not ESPN pulled a Popovich and sat Jackson down to request he not smoke weed on the job.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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