Reggie Jackson returns to Oklahoma City tonight for the first time since the February 19 trade that sent him to the Motor City. His reception is expected to be about as warm as the Oklahoma forecast this evening: icy and 28 degrees.
Jackson essentially forced his way out of Oklahoma City. After the 2014 playoffs Jackson stated publicly that he wanted to be a starter in the NBA, wanted to be a star, and wanted to run his own team. The Thunder reportedly offered him a 4-year extension worth $48 million, which Jackson rejected.
Jackson hoped he would be traded before the rookie extension deadline. When that deadline came and went and Jackson found himself still a member of the Thunder, he responded by holding himself out of a game against Denver even though he was healthy enough to play. The self-centered act left his teammates in a lurch. The Thunder suited up only 8 healthy players for the game, which they surprisingly won. When Jackson did return to the lineup, his play was uneven and often selfish. A divide larger than the Oklahoma sky formed in the Thunder locker room. Ironically, six days before his eventual trade to Detroit, Jackson paid homage to the Bad Boys Pistons:
Let the Reggie Jackson to Detroit rumors fly. Sporting a "Bad Boys" hat at the Sprint Celebrity Game. pic.twitter.com/aZfTAfjulr
— Dylan Buckingham (@DylanBuckingham) February 14, 2015
Jackson added kerosene to the kindling fire after his trade wish was granted. When fans ultimately unload on Jackson tonight, it will mostly be due to his reaction after the trade:
Crying tears of joy #godisgreat
— Reggie Jackson (@Reggie_Jackson) February 19, 2015
Jackson could and should have handled his exit more professionally. But consider this before booing Jackson tonight:
He was right.
Jackson was absolutely right to bet on himself. Shackled to the terms and conditions of a rookie scale contract, Jackson had almost no leverage to get what he wanted and felt he deserved. He landed on a team that he could lead and it netted him $80 million over 5 years. He comes into tonight’s game averaging 19.3 points and 6.0 assists per game, posting a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.4. He’s in the early mix for an All-Star berth in the Eastern Conference.
Before booing Jackson, consider how he almost single-handedly saved the Thunder in the 2014 playoffs. The Thunder were down 2-1 against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, and were on the cusp of going down 3-1 in a hostile Memphis environment. With both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook struggling, Jackson unleashed 32 points on only 16 shots, chipping in 9 rebounds, and guided the Thunder to victory. The Thunder came back to win the series in seven games, and Jackson contributed 16 points in each of the final two games of the series.
For that effort alone, Jackson deserves at least a tip of the cap. For as ugly as his exit was, he made far more positive contributions to the Thunder and Oklahoma City in general in his 3 and a half seasons here. It’d be no shame to swallow pride and acknowledge the good times upon Jackson’s return.