It’s no secret that Jarrett Jack was the go-to guy here in Toronto whenever anyone needed a quote.
A consummate professional, Jack always made himself available for questions, answered everything thoughtfully and above all else, recognized that his position as a professional basketball player making million of dollars to play a game is very different than the rest of us. This game is a beautiful one, but it’s also a business. If teammates are not supposed to get attached to players, the media definitely isn’t allowed. This rule doesn’t stop me from saying that I’ll miss Jack’s quotes and love for this game.
It also won’t stop me from saying that I’m happy for Jack as he heads west. Not only is he escaping the Toronto winter, joining the 11-1 New Orleans Hornets and getting to play with one of his closest friends in All-Star Chris Paul, he is also being reunited with Monty Williams. Most people know that Williams was an assistant with Portland, coaching Jack during his time as a Blazer. What some may not know is that their connection runs much deeper than that.
I can’t tell you the number of times Jack has mentioned Williams during scrums where Portland would come up or even in conversations when talking about basketball and life. It’s clear that Williams has had a huge impact on Jack’s professional career. It’s appropriate considering the impact Jack’s father had on Williams as a teen growing up outside of Washington, D.C.
Before Jack ever ended up in Portland, the Jack family was making a difference in future coach Monty Williams life. As a teen in PG County, Williams was a gym rat. Bouncing from court to court, he found a home away from home at a specific rec center. Little did he know that his time spent on the basketball court of that rec center would stay with him long after he had moved onto the NBA and settled into an assistant coaching gig with the Portland Trailblazers. He would be reminded of his past and of the people who helped him get to the big stage after the Blazers made a draft night trade for Jack.
One thing about Jack: He’s very close with his family. They’re good people, very present in their son’s life. Whereas some professional athletes have family members float in and out, the Jack clan was often in Toronto and always supporting their son. When he was to begin his pro career in Portland, of course they went with him.
This is when Williams realized there was a reason Jack was a familiar face.
“All of the kids back around PG county, right outside of DC, we were all just kids of the hood,” Williams said. “We’d go from one rec, one ballpark to the next. Saturday’s we’d go to Marlow Heights Rec. That’s where [Jack's] dad was. I actually knew his dad before I knew him. Back then we had older people that took care of the young people. If you were messing up, they’d tell you to cut it out. Nowadays, they don’t say anything. His dad was one of those people who was like, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that.’ He was an authority figure. When Jarrett started playing ball, I was like, ‘This kid is from PG County,’ then he comes to Portland and his dad comes with him and I’m like, ‘That’s your dad?!’ and it just blew me away. We live in a small world. From that standpoint, I felt obligated to be even more forthright with him just because of what his dad was for all of the kids in our neighborhood.”
Over the past year, Jack has often referenced Williams and the effect he’s had on his game.
“He taught me really how to be a professional at the NBA level,” Jack said. “We kind of knew each other through my dad. He really taught me the ropes, taught me how to be professional. A lot of what you see as far as me carrying myself at this level is what he has taught me.”
Going even further than an impact on court, he said Williams was the steadying hand that was always there, helping to keep him on the right path.
“Any time he might have saw me wavering or doing some things I might not have been supposed to be doing, he always grabbed me aside, talked to me and let me know in any way possible he felt was necessary to let him get his point across.”
Where does this sense of responsibility come from for Williams? From all of the people who helped him along his journey. Williams is a unique case in the NBA. He’s very open about his faith. Christianity is a part of who he is, every step along the way. Many speak it, fewer live it with each and every decision they make. Williams is one of those few.
“I’m honored, humbled, but I don’t try to lie about who I am,” Williams said, when told of the praise Jack had bestowed upon him. “I know I’m a man of many faults. When guys have good things to say about you, it’s like, it’s pretty humbling that you can have that kind of impact on guys and yet know who you really are. They could have easily gone this way or that way. I’m just thankful that God hooked it up where I can shed some light on some issues, try to be truthful on everything and hopefully help the guys out so they can do the same thing for someone else.”
Reaching out is something that’s very important to Williams. Whether winning or losing, he wants to be making a difference whenever possible.
“To me that’s what coaching is,” he said. “It can’t just be about the X’s and O’s, winning and all of that stuff. It’s too hard to win every game. I think you have to be an example. We live in a world that doesn’t have a lot of fathers. A lot of fathers are failing on their kids. A lot of our young men need to see something that is real. Not perfect, but real.”
He thinks the key to reaching players is honesty. The key to his success? Keeping things simple so it’s easy to be transparent with the people around him.
“I think I’m fairly boring,” Williams explained. “There’s not much to me. I’m serious. I tell guys all the time, if you can’t find me at home, I’m at church or at the gym. I try to keep my life as simple as possible. Life is tough enough as you know. You don’t need to put any salt in it to make it tougher. I try to make a simple life. I was one of those guys who could have easily gone off the path if I didn’t have a real man step to me and tell me, ‘You have to get your life right with God or you’re going to get yourself in trouble.’”
“He’s the same way all of the time,” Jack said, echoing the sentiments of Williams when explaining why he is such a steadying force. “He’s not a chameleon by any stretch. You know what you’re getting when you deal with Coach Williams. He’s a man that is really stern in his faith, in his beliefs and he doesn’t waver at any point and time. To be that way you have to be a very strong person.”
Because he had the right people in his life, Williams has committed himself to being that person for any young man who crosses paths with him that may need someone. Last season, Jack spoke about the possibility of Williams getting a head coaching position in the league, saying, “Whenever he feels he’s ready to pull the trigger and get his own team, that’s when the time is right for him.”
The time was right when the Hornets position opened up and now the two will be reunited.
In Jack, the Hornets get a durable, strong back up who will be ready if and when Chris Paul needs someone to step in for him. They also get a player that Williams is very familiar with and who also possesses the same type of grit that Paul is made of.
“He’s tough,” Williams said of Jack. “He’s got street toughness, he’s got mental toughness, he’s got game toughness, physical toughness. Just a tough kid. I would have to tell him, he’d get frustrated in practice and he’d be ready to knock somebody out and I’d have to tell him, ‘Jarrett, I’d be disappointed if you did that,’ because it would be easy for him. I know where he comes from. He comes from my neighborhood. Those kids are tough, they’re hungry. He’s got a toughness about him that a lot of people can’t deal with going head-to-head with him. He’s just tough and he cares. He can be abrasive at times. If you’re tough and you care, you can rub people the wrong way. If I had to say anything about Jarrett, he’s a tough, tough kid.”
Williams complimented Jack’s work ethic, something that makes sense when factoring in the close friendship between Jack and Paul.
“Gym-rat. [Jack's] a gym-rat. He watches every game, he’s a history buff, he knows what you did in college, what you did in high school, who won the state championships. In the offseason, he goes to playoff games. You don’t have a lot of guys like that in the league. Guys that play basketball now, play because they can get paid. This kid plays because he loves the game. If he wasn’t playing right now, he’d be playing on Saturday, he’d find a game on Tuesday, he’d play on Thursday. He would just play. You don’t have a lot of guys like that.”
With the trade, the Hornets now have two of those type of players in their point guard rotation. With the trade, Jack is reunited with Williams and playing alongside Paul. Not a bad deal for one of the nice guys in the league. Maybe sometimes, the ones who play the game the right way get paid back.
Jack is a firm believer in everything having a time and purpose. Speaking about the presence of Williams in his life after his father had made an impact on Williams’ life, Jack said, “”Some things are meant to be. Destined for whatever reason, the stars align that way. I’m just happy he was there for my three years. He helped me and I think it’s definitely showing right now.”
When the Blazers were in town to play the Raptors last February, Williams reflected on the relationship he had with Jack’s father and then the relationship he had built with Jack during his time in Portland. “Everything comes full circle,” Monty said “I had guys like that, too. His dad was that for me. I’ve tried to be that for him. He’ll be that for someone else. It’s amazing how God orchestrates things like that. You think it’s coincidence, but, there’s six billion people on earth and that happened and it’s supposed to be coincidence.”
Jack now being a New Orleans Hornet, playing for Williams? Nothing coincidental about that.
*All of the quotes for this piece were collected last February. I was waiting to write this piece after Monty Williams was hired as a head coach. Yes, I was that confident the jump would happen. When I sat down to write it after he became the coach of the Hornets, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t the right time to tell this story. The unwritten rule of journalism is that nothing good can come of sitting on a story, but this time I’m glad I waited.