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The first time Jaren Jackson Jr. took the court at Michigan State University, his name was not called in the starting lineup. His father Jaren Jackson Sr. was disappointed but knew his son’s moment to shine was around the corner.
“I think it was an exhibition game. And this particular game, J did not start,” Jackson Sr. told USA TODAY Sports. “He was a highly recruited player going to Michigan State so a lot was expected as one of the top freshmen coming in. He was kind of penciled in as a starter. But he didn't start this game for whatever reason.”
Jackson Sr. did not call Tom Izzo the next day to ask why his sought-after son was not on the floor immediately. He did not want to pull the “NBA dad card.” Instead, he patiently waited.
Days later, When Jackson Jr.’s name was announced during the introduction of the starting lineups, Jackson Sr. was sitting in the stands, holding his head in his hands unable to contain his emotions.
Surrounded by the sea of white and green in the Breslin Center, Jackson Sr. beamed with joy through each tear, knowing he waited for this exact moment.
With 12 seasons in the NBA and a championship ring among his memorabilia, Jackson Sr. had seen his name in lights and heard it fill many arenas, but to hear “junior” behind it, felt like one of his greatest accomplishments.
“I didn’t care who he played or how he played. I just felt like that was the culmination of a special moment for us,” said Jackson Sr.
A father’s love: 'Handle your business'
Jackson Jr., a center/forward for the Memphis Grizzlies, learned more than just how to play the game from his father — who currently serves as an assistant coach of the Westchester Knicks of the NBA G League. He also learned how to appreciate where you come from while enjoying the journey of where you are headed.
“My dad was a hard-working guy,” said Jackson Sr., recalling how his own childhood influenced how he raised his son. “He never really played basketball, but he always had the work ethic of a grown man. He was a tough man that had to grind to support his family. So I like to share that with my son. I share how proud I was of my dad.
“He passed away when Jaren was maybe 2 or 3 so he really never knew my dad so I made it a point to share with him how I felt about my dad and those moments of good times.”
Jackson Sr. vividly remembers Saturday mornings with his father. His dad would wake up early, sit on the porch and reflect on his long week of work. He would tend to whatever needed to be fixed around the house, wash the car and make sure all of the neighborhood children were taken care of. These are the memories he is adamant about sharing with Jackson Jr.
Growing up in New Orleans, Jackson Sr. didn’t have much. “It was a large family with limited money, everybody was hustling and you know, poor, but happy,” he said. “There were a lot of beautiful people who supported you growing up, but my dad always said, ‘handle your business. You can make it, but there’s going to be a lot of hungry folks from the neighborhood who come from tough times. These are the guys you will have to compete with. They are hungry for success just as you are hungry for success.’
"And that was my dad's point: handle your business because the other guys are coming up and nothing will stop them. You cannot be scared of the moment when it’s your time to compete. That’s been the message from my dad to me, and I stressed that to my son.”
Just a matter of time: 'Get your own ring, man'
Jackson Sr. and his wife Terri, did not know the sex of their baby until birth. When Jackson Jr. was born on a rainy September day in Plainfield, New Jersey, they were overwhelmed with emotions.
“I got a son and he’s named after me, I am so blessed,” said Jackson Sr. “I thank my wife for that moment and that’s our only child. It was a dream come true. Despite the storm, we saw great things coming for Jaren from the beginning. And he truly is a winner.”
Coming from a basketball-oriented family, Jackson Jr. felt an “unspoken pressure” from his family to follow in his father’s footsteps and succeed at every level of the game, but any ounce of pressure was outweighed with a bounty of support from the entire family.
“He just wanted me to find a love for the game on my own,” Jackson Jr. told USA TODAY Sports. “They didn't want me to do anything that I didn’t want to do. They just wanted me to be happy, and I found what makes me happy.”
Jackson Jr. says his father is one of the best coaches he has had in his corner and is looking forward to spending time with him during the off-season, training and working on their craft together.
“Words to describe my father are ‘battler’ and ‘consistent.’ He came from the bottom and worked his whole life for everything he had and has respect from everybody for what he has been doing," said Jackson Jr. “I am blessed to learn from him.”
When thinking about the future of his son’s career, Jackson Sr. knows it is only a matter of time before he helps lead a team to a championship.
“I don't want to put a timer on it,” said Jackson Sr., who won his ring in 1999 with the San Antonio Spurs. “But I think it's sooner than expected. I would say he's going to help the team win a championship. I think he's a winner. He plays as if he's trying to win every game that he's going to help the team win a championship.
"He has seen my championship ring a lot. And I don’t think he has ever tried mine on — unless he has snuck into my jewelry box to put it on. He wants to get his own and he’s got to handle his business. It's only a matter of time. … All of these guys in the NBA playoffs right now, they are playing to win and it’s going to happen for Jaren too. I am looking forward to seeing him play and seeing him help a team. That’s what I knew from the beginning. He is great at all aspects of the game. Don’t be surprised, because it is going to happen for him. So sit back and enjoy.”
Contact Analis Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @analisbailey.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA dad gives Memphis Grizzlies star Jaren Jackson Jr. lessons in life