Bobby Jackson understands that kudos and criticism are part of the game.
He was a beloved Kings player in his first NBA foray, an everyman who at 6-foot-1 wasn’t much bigger than the fans who clamored for him. Grandmothers would sometimes plant a kiss on his sweaty forehead after he plowed into the baseline seats for a loose ball, his game defined by effort.
Now Jackson is viewed differently. Dressed in suits he hand picks, Jackson talks about the sport, breaking down players and tendencies as an analyst before and after games on Comcast SportsNet. Jackson is the first to admit that he’s a rookie again, as he smooths out the rough edges on his delivery and warms into a new role.
Jackson is popular on location in the Sleep Train Arena concourse, fans reaching to shake his hand, asking for a selfie, a high-five or at least a nod and a wave. Mostly, he breaks down the action with Guy Haberman and Bill Herenda in the Comcast studios in San Francisco, where he’ll be Wednesday night for the Kings’ season finale against the Lakers.
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One night early this season, Jackson came home after a game, turned on the replay and studied his own dialogue and his mannerisms. Per his norm, he didn’t hold back.
“I was really hard on myself – ‘What did I just say? What the heck am I talking about?’” Jackson said, laughing in reflection.
Then Jackson asked for another point of view. His 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, didn’t hesitate either.
“She really let me have it,” Jackson said. “She said, ‘Dad, you can’t stand there on the set looking like that. Your butt’s too big!’ I was expecting her to say something about what I was saying, and she says I’ve got a fat booty.”
Jackson did something about it.
“I went to the gym for two straight weeks and lost 15 pounds,” Jackson said. “I look better on the set.”
Jackson eventually hired a coach to help him on his delivery: what to say and how to say it. He invites input from his co-hosts and those from the Comcast SportsNet front office, too.
“Bobby has no ego, so he takes input well,” Haberman said. “He’s gotten a lot better. It’s not the same guy as the start of the season. He wants to do well. His strength is he’s not afraid to say something strong.”
That showed during a recent game when Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins grabbed a long rebound and pounded the ball up court, losing it on a bad pass.
Said Jackson during halftime on the set: “Pass the ball, man. That’s not your game. He’s got to learn from this. Get it to your guards. We know you’re skilled, but you’re not that skilled.”
“Bobby attacks his on-air role with the same tenacity that he did as a King,” said Herenda.
Jackson’s contract expires after the season. He’s made it clear that he wants to return. Comcast executives work regularly with the Kings on suggestions for on-air personnel, knowing fans love ex-players talking about current players. Doug Christie and Scot Pollard, teammates of Jackson’s during the Kings playoff era of the early 2000s, have been mentioned as TV and/or radio personalities. Christie has done well as an analyst before and after games on the Kings’ radio flagship KHTK 140.
“The credibility factor is huge for our pre- and post-game shows and ex-players bring that cachet,” said Chris Olivere, senior news director of Comcast SportsNet. “With Bobby, I admire his candor, and he has a pedigree to back it up. He doesn’t walk a tight wire. And he knows he’s a work in progress. To use a sports analogy, it’s like his rookie season as a player, adjusting to a new game, looking at the game in a different perspective. He’s going to just get better and better.”
After playing 12 NBA seasons, Jackson said he had threegoals for retirement:
▪ He wanted to get into coaching, which he did as an assistant with the Kings and as a player development coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
▪ He wanted to dabble in the front office, doing so with Geoff Petrie and the Kings before ownership shifted to Vivek Ranadive.
▪ And he wanted to work as an analyst.
Jackson said his on-court competitive drive is officially drained. He knew his playing days were over more than a year ago, when he went down in a heap in a simple pick-up game.
“I was on the floor, a blown knee, screaming with the worst injury of my life,” Jackson said. “I knew it was really time to get on with the rest of my life.”
Jackson credits Petrie, the front-office architect for the best Kings’ teams, with having a great affect on him.
“Geoff was so good to me; taught me to be a man, how to work in this game after I was done playing, that you’ve got to put the work in to get the results,” Jackson said. “I love coaching, a passion, the X’s and O’s and developing players. Front-office work is interesting. There’s so much to it that people don’t know.
“Broadcasting has been a lot of fun. I love that challenge. I know I look good on TV. Those are my suits. I’ve lost those pounds so my daughter doesn’t say much. It’s all about putting your best into anything you do.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.