Jackson returns, a voice in the shadows 

click to enlarge Mark Jackson, who coached the Warriors the last three seasons but is now a TV analyst for NBA games, was back at Oracle Arena for Saturday's playoff opener. - BEN MARGOT/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Ben Margot/AP file photo
  • Mark Jackson, who coached the Warriors the last three seasons but is now a TV analyst for NBA games, was back at Oracle Arena for Saturday's playoff opener.

OAKLAND — When it was over, when the confetti had rained down from the ceiling and the Warriors had won the first of what might be many playoff games without their old coach, Mark Jackson abandoned his broadcast position and walked slowly underneath the stands of Oracle Arena, a cellphone pressed to his ear. A couple of high-fives, a couple of handshakes, and then someone behind Jackson shouted, "Mark, we loved the job you did last year," and Jackson waved a long arm in acknowledgment.

​It was an odd and slightly uncomfortable denouement to an otherwise celebratory afternoon in Oakland, amid the Warriors' 106-99 Game 1 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. And no doubt Jackson felt the discomfort himself, since last year, at this time, in this arena, he was still the coach of the Warriors, a team that has either made a major leap under new coach Steve Kerr or simply evolved into the NBA's best team based on the foundation Jackson set in the three years prior (during which Jackson elevated the Warriors from 23-43 to 51-31). Perhaps those two things are not mutually exclusive — Kerr and certain Warriors players have acknowledged Jackson's influence over the course of this season, despite any ongoing animosity between Jackson and Warriors owner Joe Lacob — but for Jackson, to be assigned to the ABC broadcast crew for this opening playoff game (even though he'd been here a couple of times during the regular season) had to feel like a strange irony.

​No doubt, the players noticed, too, but for the most part, it felt like a small sideshow. Jackson was no longer the focus at Oracle Arena, but a peripheral element, a background player in this glorious Warriors season, just another face in the crowd. "We're not gonna comment on it," said Warriors center Andrew Bogut, who has admitted he didn't have a close relationship with Jackson, unlike teammates Curry and Klay Thompson. (Asked if he'd spoken to Jackson at all Saturday, Bogut said he hadn't.)

​In fact, Jackson spent the majority of the broadcast praising his former team, and his successor, for their accomplishments this season. In the opening, Jackson — who had recently noted he would give James Harden the edge as the league's MVP over the Warriors' Stephen Curry — said that Curry "may very well be the MVP of this league." He repeatedly praised Curry's family, including his parents, and at one point, he endorsed Kerr as the NBA's Coach of the Year. Later on, when Curry — a near-flawless foul shooter — missed second free throw, Jackson joked that Curry needed to work on that aspect of his game. "I don't know if you heard," he said, presumably referring to his Harden endorsement, "but I'm a hater."

​That was the closest Jackson came on-air to acknowledging any friction between himself and the Warriors' franchise. Jackson has mentioned Lacob more than once during recorded sermons he's given at his church in the Los Angeles area, and Lacob apologized for critical comments he made about Jackson at a luncheon. As recently as late March, Jackson again mentioned Lacob in a sermon, saying that, "I had a joy when I got fired. The owner of the Golden State Warriors was baffled when I left the meeting, shook his hand and smiled. I said, 'I'm praying for you.' He looked at me like I just cussed him out. All I said was, 'I'm praying for you.'"

​But now Jackson is rumored to be a potential candidate for several NBA coach openings, which may have at least partially explained why he stayed entirely silent about the Warriors — and about any elements of his time here — off the airwaves Saturday. Asked afterward for his thoughts about returning to Oracle Arena as he made his way out, Jackson shook his head. No comment.

"My pleasure, man," he told a reporter, without breaking stride. "Take care."

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Michael Weinreb

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