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Golden State Warriors' Stephen Jackson, center, and Al Harrington talk about alternatives to violence with Stephen Marshall, host of KMEL's "Street Soldiers" program, during a "Silence the Violence" rally at Oakland Technical High School in Oakland, Calif., Monday, March 10, 2008. (D. Ross Cameron/The Oakland Tribune)
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When word came down from the NBA office that Stephen Jackson had been named the league's civic do-gooder of the month, even the man of the hour was skeptical.

"I was kind of hoping it wasn't an April Fools' joke," said Jackson. "I was like, please tell me somebody's not going to come out say, 'Hey, we were just joking.'"

No fooling. Jackson is the NBA's Community Assist Award winner for March. It's a genuine, David Stern-endorsed honor, given to Jackson for his charitable work in the community.

Volunteerism always has been one of Jackson's go-to moves, but he has elevated his game this season. In March alone, he appeared on a Silence the Violence panel with Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums; at a fundraiser for the Show Me campaign (which fights poverty, and to which he donated $15,000); and at a groundbreaking for a new basketball court he is funding in San Francisco.

Oh yes, he has founded his own charitable organization -- the Jack 1 Foundation, based in his home town of Port Arthur, Texas -- which plans to open a K-5 school this summer.

"I always gave back," Jackson said by phone during the Warriors' road trip, which ended with Sunday's loss in New Orleans. "I've always lent a hand to someone less fortunate than me, even before the NBA. I'm definitely humbled by (the award), considering it's coming from the league."

The last memo Jackson got from the league informed him he'd been suspended for the first seven games of this season. You won't embarrass him by bringing it up. See, there is no way to properly tell the story of his personal renaissance without revisiting a couple of his less-sanguine moments.


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The one most people remember was his role in the infamous 2004 brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich. Jackson followed Pacers teammate Ron Artest into the stands, where both fought with fans. Jackson was suspended for 30 games.

Two years later he made news again when he discharged a gun outside an Indianapolis strip club. (That led to the seven-game suspension.) The Pacers traded him to the Warriors a few months later.

You know the story from there -- at least the one that has played out in the public eye. Jackson helps the Warriors to the playoffs. Jackson sparks them to a first-round upset of Dallas. Jackson is named team captain by coach Don Nelson, to incredulous stares all around.

The part you haven't seen is Jackson reading to elementary school students. Or Jackson talking straight to adolescents. Or Jackson appearing here, there and everywhere without fanfare, leaving smiles in his wake.

"I think they're all rewarding," he said. "But the one that sticks out is, I was able to fly 10 kids from my hometown out to a game. They had an essay contest, and Southwest (Airlines) did a thing where it flew the 10 essay winners and put 'em in a hotel, the Warriors gave them tickets to a game. They went to the aquarium in San Francisco."

Jackson judged the essays himself, giving 10 third-graders stories they'll be telling for a lifetime.

"Some kids never get a chance to get out of Port Arthur," he said. "Now they see there's more to do in life, and that anything's possible."

Through his charitable work, Jackson has proven something we already should know -- that there is more to a man than you can derive from box scores and YouTube. It has been a conscious effort on his part.

"Some days," he said, "you do think, I wonder how my kids would respond to people telling them, 'Hey I saw your dad up in the stands fighting.' I definitely make mistakes, but I've stood up and been a man about my mistakes.

"(Now) people are not paying attention to the negative things, because I'm not doing any. I'm not putting myself in situations where I could have another club fight or an incident. That's helped. It helps my game. I'm doing the right things, focusing on my job. Being a team captain and having to lead by example helps me be more focused."

Speaking of which, Jackson is enjoying the best season of his NBA career. If you want to go all melodramatic and suggest there is a connection between his personal growth and his professional evolution, that's fine by him.

"I have been taking a lot of time to get familiar with the people of Oakland," he said. "I'm definitely glad I did it. It's a blessing. People are finally looking at me as a basketball player. I feel good about it. I'm showing a lot of people another side of me."

That would be the inside.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@bayareanewsgroup.com.