The mystery? Jackson is one of the warmest, kindest people you'll ever meet.
He's not that wild and crazy guy who ran into the stands throwing haymakers at fans during the Indiana-Detroit brawl in November 2004. He's not the obstinate head case he seems to be when he's screaming at officials or giving lip to a coach. He's not the lawless jerk you'd expect after hearing he fired shots outside a strip club.
To be sure, that was Jackson who ran behind Ron Artest into the stands of The Palace at Auburn Hills. It is Jackson who is tied for fifth in the NBA with 12 technical fouls and has been ejected twice for verbally sparring with the officials. It will be Jackson going to trial as early as next month facing a three-count indictment stemming from that October strip club incident when he was with the Indiana Pacers.
But those who know Jackson testify that those instances are the exception, not the rule. Those who meet Jackson are surprised to experience his Southern charm and sincerity and not the knucklehead they expected.
"I've known him for years," said Warriors guard Jason Richardson, who has the same agent, Dan Fegan, as Jackson. "He's a good-hearted guy, always smiling and joking. He brings a lot of team chemistry. ... He's the type of guy that keeps everything together. People just look at the off-court things that happen, and they don't know the person he is. Steve's a great person."
His philanthropic resume suggests he's a good guy. He's the pass-out-turkeys-on-Thanksgiving and give-out-toys-during-Christmas type. Last summer, he opened the Stephen Jesse Jackson Academy -- a kindergarten through sixth grade school -- in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, where he grew up bussing tables and washing dishes at his grandfather's soul food restaurant.
But that he shares his millions isn't as good an indicator of his character as how he gives his time and treats others.
He's made himself available for several community events since the Warriors acquired him from Indiana in a Jan. 17 trade. On his first Warriors road trip, he invited all of his teammates out to dinner, and group food runs have since become a regular occurrence. When he first toured the team's facility in Oakland, he made a point to introduce himself to the staff. He takes the younger players under his wing, taking them shopping, dispensing advice, lending an ear.
What's more, he does the little things that are unbecoming of a millionaire thug. He looks people in the eye when they talk to him, as if he cares about what they're saying. He frequently doles out handshakes, half-hugs and, to women, pecks on the cheek. He returns phone calls. He mends fences, lifts spirits, makes others feel special.
That's why, however inexplicable, his actions in the brawl (and his role in the strip club incident, in which he maintains he was protecting his teammates), are viewed by many from the street culture he emerged from as a sign of loyalty. He obviously means it when he says he'll do anything for his teammates.
"I love the dude," said rookie guard Kelenna Azubuike, who hadn't met Jackson before the trade. "He's a great guy. He's always helping guys out with everything."
Jackson readily admits he has trouble controlling his temper. He said it's something he's struggled with all his life, and he doesn't sound too confident about winning that battle any time soon. And though his mother gets on him about it, he's afraid to harness his passion too much because that's what got him to this point -- a journey that included stints in the Continental Basketball Association and pro leagues in Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
But it's telling that Jackson hasn't launched a public relations campaign touting his human side. He doesn't have a PR representative trying to spin his poor decisions or offset negative press with contrived humanitarianism.
All you need to know about Jackson's secret is that he doesn't mind it being a secret.
"It doesn't bother me that people don't know who I really am," Jackson said before speaking to children at an Oakland Public Library for an NBA Read to Achieve event last month. "Because they don't need to know. I know the kind of person I am. All they need to know is that I'm giving all I've got on the basketball court. I don't need them to know who I really am off the court."
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.