Anyone who has seen Stephen Jackson play knows how the Warriors' swingman relishes the element of surprise, that moment when he slips a no-look pass to a rolling Andris Biedrins or pulls up to launch an oh-no-he-didn't 3 on the break. That's why it wasn't enough for him to pick up the tab for four underprivileged families to enjoy a holiday dinner and open presents at Miss Pearl's Jam House, not far from his condominium in downtown Oakland.
Jackson made sure the families weren't expecting anyone from the team to make an appearance -- and then strolled in as they were finishing their meal to personally hand out the gifts he and his mother had selected for them.
"I like to make it more personal," he said. "It keeps in mind where I could be or where my family could be. This way, I don't forget where I came from."
Jackson is from Port Arthur, Texas, which has been pummeled over the past few decades by the local oil business going bust and a host of fierce hurricanes, including Katrina. The area is now dominated by nearly a half-dozen different correctional facilities. Jackson's mom, Judy, worked the graveyard shift at one of the oil refineries while raising three kids.
It was her idea that Jackson not just buy dinner, gifts and pay the utility bills for some local families, as he did last year, but that the two of them spend time with the families as well.
There were 30 people in all finishing off plates of sweet potato fries, jerked chicken and black bean fritters when Jackson arrived, but his eyes zeroed in on two teenage boys. He recognized in them the emotional drag he'd experienced as a kid wearing hand-me-downs. "Walking in, I could see they were down," Jackson said. "It just felt good knowing that they were going to get something up-to-date to wear."
That's because he left the gift selection to Judy. She picked out slacks, jeans, some button-down shirts and a couple of ties. Stephen admitted he would've gone in another direction.
"Moms are good at that stuff," he said. "I'd go and get whatever is fashionable or something I'd like. Moms know what you need."
It speaks to Jackson's transformation that he is best known in the Bay Area for team captaincy and charitable acts, a big factor in the Warriors giving him a three-year, $28 million extension this fall. The night after the dinner at Miss Pearl's, the Warriors played the Magic and Jackson bussed over 200-some kids from the San Francisco Boys & Girls Club, provided them tickets and met with them afterward.
The people of Detroit may remember him for his part in the Pistons-Pacers brawl, and he fell out of favor with the citizens of Indianapolis for firing a gun outside a strip club, but he vowed when he arrived in Oakland that all that was behind him. The only part of his past he looks to carry on are the sacrifices he saw his mother make for their family and others in their community.
"I know how good her heart is," he said. "It's just something that was instilled in me. We're going to do this every year."
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.