'Space Jam' to Titans: Adoree' Jackson shaped by mom's strength, lessons

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Before Adoree' Jackson became the Tennessee Titans' first-round pick because of his electrifying skills as a returner and cornerback, he wanted to be the second coming of Michael Jordan.

His mother, Vianca Jackson, recalls 3-year-old Adoree' monopolizing the television for nightly viewings of "Space Jam" in their East St. Louis, Illinois, home. He would jump and flip in his mom's king bed trying to do all the moves. He broke his toy basketball hoop pulling off a Jordan-like dunk.

Vianca got a call from a concerned teacher one day because Adoree' wouldn't respond when they called his name. She was alarmed at first. She raised him, and his two older siblings, in a faith-centered household with structure and discipline. He was usually well behaved in school. Then she recalled a conversation the previous night during a "Space Jam" viewing and realized the reason for the misunderstanding.

"He told everybody that his name was now 'Baby Jordan' and he wasn't going to respond to anything else," Vianca said, laughing. "I never dreamed it would be football for him. I always thought basketball. But he did well in everything the Lord let him touch. He's always been different."

"No" and "can't" haven't been in Adoree's vocabulary. That's a lesson from Mom.

"It’s all about perservance, growing up in East St. Louis, seeing the things I've seen, my mom was always strong for me," Adoree' said.

Vianca Jackson has remained that same loving and protective mother to Adoree'. So when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2015, she didn't tell Adoree', who was a sophomore at USC. Adoree' knew something was up, but he didn't get the official news from his mom until he came home for Christmas.

"I didn't want to hurt him. When I told him, his eyes got scrunchy and he started to get emotional," Vianca said, before saying she was able to reveal to Adoree' in that same conversation that she was now cancer-free. "I said, 'But God ... Satan tried to get me, but God told him, 'That's my child.' I said, 'Momma's good, it's gone.'"

Vianca will be honored as the 12th Titan, representing the NFL's Crucial Catch campaign, which brings awareness to multiple cancers, Monday night before the Titans' game against the Indianapolis Colts. She's a breast cancer survivor, who has gone through chemotherapy and lumpectomy surgery, and can now share her story with others.

"It’s dope. You hear about breast cancer awareness in the NFL, in high school I always wore pink," Adoree' said. "Now with my mom being affected by it and with her being recognized, especially with it being a Monday night game, which is a blessing, it’s going to be a cool moment."

Vianca says she'll be scared, shaky and probably crying as she walks on the field Monday to be honored as the 12th Titan. She asked the Titans if the ceremonial sword she has to plant in the ground is too heavy for her. She doesn't want to embarrass "Sweet Pea," as she calls Adoree'.

The nickname came when Adoree' was 18 months old and was helping his mother bring groceries into the house. She handed him a loaf of bread to carry. He wanted more responsibility so he grabbed a gallon of milk in each hand and lugged them into the house.

"He may have been small, but he has always been mighty," said Vianca, who is still in awe when people tell her how good her son is on the field.

The last time Vianca made a big appearance on a football field, she was telling the world in an emotional interview on the Pac-12 Network how proud she was of Adoree' following USC's win over Utah State in the 2016 home opener. It was her first home game since 2014 -- she missed the 2015 season due to her cancer -- and Adoree' returned a punt for a touchdown.

Adoree' is well aware of those circumstances, and he's hopeful that Monday's game is just as special for him and his mom.

"I’m praying that it’ll come through tenfold," Adoree' said. "I’m thankful that it happened the way it happened and she’s still alive to tell her story."