He is not a guy, Mark Jackson said, who "wears my red shorts under my suit." His St. John's playing days are long gone. And "there was never a side of me," the former Knick said, "that I was shaking my head" after being passed over for the Knicks' head coaching job.
But Jackson's return Wednesday night to the scene where he committed many grand basketball acts was "special," he said repeatedly. It was his first time at Madison Square Garden since he became coach of the Golden State Warriors, his first time in the self-proclaimed World's Most Famous Arena since elaborate Garden renovations.
"They got fancy on me," he said. "I don't even know my way back to the locker room. They did an outstanding job. First rate."
At 47, Jackson has moved on. In his second season with Golden State, he has turned a 23-43 team into a winner, 33-24 going into Wednesday night's game, when among his major concerns was replacing the scoring and rebounding of former Knick David Lee, suspended without pay for one game by the league for Tuesday's shoving match with Indiana's Roy Hibbert.
"Didn't think he deserved it . . . we don't agree with it," Jackson said, "but we're a no-excuse basketball team. The mission remains the same."
The setting, though, was decidedly different, a place where Jackson began leaving his footprints while still in high school at Bishop Loughlin in Queens; his summer-league team won a championship game at the Garden, which was home through his four seasons at St. John's and seven of his 17 NBA years with the Knicks.
It was "kind of funny," he said, that his wife's first road game since he took the Warriors job was here. They walked around town during the day, he said, and "a lot of people at 4:30, 4:45, were, like, 'What is this dude doing in this store?' "
"I really didn't know how it was going to hit me," Jackson said of his Garden coaching debut, where he marveled at running into familiar faces among security guards and building employees, "people who knew me as a kid, who understood what my dreams were and played a part in that. So, it's special."