Jerry Stackhouse first came to Philadelphia as the third overall pick by the Sixers in the 1995 draft. And one of the first things they did was hand him a hard hat.
He was given a tour of the arena now known as the Wells Fargo Center, which was still under construction. It would be “Stack’s House,” everyone decided at that point.
“I was telling someone about that the other day,” Stackhouse, now a Brooklyn Net, now 18 years into his NBA career, said after the team’s shootaround Monday morning in the arena. “I was here, with a hard hat on, [wearing a] three-piece suit.”
We all know how it turned out. Stackhouse, who played his rookie year in the Spectrum and a little over a year in the new place, was evicted early in the '97-98 campaign. The Sixers decided to hitch their wagon to Allen Iverson, taken first overall in the '96 draft, and despite all the ups and downs of his 10-plus years in town, you’d have to say they made the right choice.
Stackhouse, now 38, was left to build something on his own, and he has done so. Unlike Iverson, he will not make the Hall of Fame, but his has been a very, very good career, one in which he has averaged 17 points while playing for eight teams. More significant is the fact that he has become one of the league’s most respected players, revered by coaches and teammates, by friends and foes.
You last as long as he has, and you have to be talented and tough. Canny and competitive. Also, willing to adapt to changing circumstances. At various points in his career, Stackhouse has been “the guy” (he averaged 29.8 points, second most in the league, for Detroit in 2000-01), the sidekick (he was sixth man on a Dallas club that reached the Finals in ’05-06), and now, the sage veteran.
He was inactive for Brooklyn’s 106-97 loss to the Sixers Monday night, and has appeared in just 27 games for the Nets this season, averaging 4.8 points. But Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said he plans to use Stackhouse down the stretch and in the playoffs, knowing that the veteran has “the ability to contribute to us -- perhaps even more so later on, because of his experience.”
But Carlesimo also said Stackhouse, while not in poor condition, needs to get back into basketball shape. Perhaps with that in mind, Stackhouse spent some time after Monday’s shootaround working on post moves with and against fellow reserves Tornike Shengelia and Mirza Teletovic. It was no gentle exercise; they took turns banging and bumping each other for several minutes, and after being thwarted by Stackhouse on one move, Teletovic walked away rubbing his eye, apparently having been poked.
Stackhouse looked on impassively.
Some 90 minutes before the game, Stackhouse was again on the court, firing up shots -- wing jumpers, wing three-pointers, pull-ups from each elbow. When the time comes, he figures to be ready.
And when it’s time to go, he figures to be ready for that, too. He was recently elected a vice president of the NBA Players Association, and will no doubt remain active in that organization when he’s done playing. He mentioned broadcasting and coaching as possible options as well -- and he would appear to be particularly well-suited for the latter, given the various roles he has filled during his playing career.
“My perfect route would be something like Mark Jackson,” he said, referring to the former broadcaster and current Golden State coach.
But Stackhouse is not ready to walk away just yet, and isn’t sure when he will be. “I’m so close to 20 (years) right now,” he said. “That’s a good, round number."
Sixers boss Doug Collins, who coached Stackhouse for part of the ’97-98 season in Detroit and the entire ’02-03 campaign in Washington, called him “one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached.” Collins said a basketball IQ like that is typical of guys who hang around a long time -- guys like not only Stackhouse but the Knicks’ Wheeze Kids (Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas and Marcus Camby) and Oklahoma City’s Derek Fisher.
Collins said the other common denominator is that such players are “incredibly competitive and … get to a point in their career where they understand the best role they can play.” Maybe they won’t play for the better part of a week, he added, and then be forced to play 20 minutes.
“And when they do,” Collins said, “they’re very, very effective. That’s a real coach’s dream.”
That brings us back, in a roundabout way, to Iverson. Stackhouse recently discussed with Jonathan Abrams of Grantland.com how important it is to be adaptable, and how that has contributed to his longevity.
“I look at a guy like Allen Iverson,” Stackhouse told Abrams. “There's no way, from a talent level or what he's done for the game of basketball, he shouldn't be on somebody's team right now. But we know why. We know why.”
Yes, we do. Iverson, who has not played in the NBA since his 25-game cameo with the Sixers in ’09-10, is unlikely to accept anything other than a role as a centerpiece, which is why he is unlikely to get another job in the league, even though he is seven months younger than Stackhouse.
Consider, Stackhouse said Monday, Iverson’s three-game stay with Memphis, early in that ’09-10 season. “He still came in with the mindset of, ‘I want to compete for a position,’ and probably could have won the position,” Stackhouse said.
But that wasn’t really the point anymore.
“I think teams make decisions for their future,” Stackhouse said, “where they want to go and as far as developing younger guys. And you have to kind of accept that. … Whether it was pride or ego or whatever -- I think he still felt like he was the best player on the court. A lot of teams were turned off by that. It’s unfortunate, for a guy who had that type of career, what most would think is a Hall of Fame career, not to be able to go out the way he would like to go out, now to be sitting around, hoping and wishing for something that in all likelihood is not going to happen.”
Stackhouse considers Iverson, whom he sees on occasion, a friend. “That was my guy,” he said. “Still is.”
It could have turned out very differently between them, since both were young bucks with the Sixers in ’96-97, both potential franchise cornerstones. And they did have their disagreements. While it has never been confirmed that friends of both players once fought outside the team’s practice facility, Stackhouse and Iverson did get into a dust-up at a shootaround in 1997, about which Stackhouse was famously quoted as saying, “It was a fight between one guy who didn't know how to fight and another guy who didn't want to fight.”
There is little doubt Stackhouse was the latter party, as he has never been hesitant to mix it up, if he felt that was required. Besides Iverson, he scrapped with Utah’s Jeff Hornacek (an ex-Sixer) during a game in ’95-96, Pistons teammate Christian Laettner during a card game in ’99 and Utah rookie Kirk Snyder after a game in 2005.
Stackhouse has mixed feelings about all this. While he wants to be a good example to the three kids he has by his wife Ramirra, he also said this on Monday: “I feel like I’m a guy that never started much, but I don’t have a problem bringing some closure to some things,” he said. “It’s not the proudest moment to have that stuff out there, but at the same time, I’m always going to protect myself, protect my teammates. And I live by that code.”
He’s not sure he and Iverson could have ever thrived together in Philadelphia -- not so much because of the egos involved but the fact that Stackhouse was a shooting guard, while, in his view, Iverson was “a shooting guard in a point guard’s body.”
“Could we have made it work?” Stackhouse said. “Possibly.”
In the end it worked out well for all concerned. Stackhouse was sent to Detroit with Eric Montross, for Aaron McKie and Theo Ratliff -- two vital pieces in the Sixers’ rebirth. Iverson led the club to the Finals in ’01, and Stackhouse was free to build something big, something substantial.
No hard hat required.