Reggie Jackson leaves Detroit with a complicated legacy

Detroit Pistons Reggie Jackson. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Detroit Pistons Reggie Jackson. (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

As Reggie Jackson heads to the Clippers, his time in Detroit leaves behind a complicated legacy that polarized Detroit sports fans.

There’s a bit of twisted irony in the story of Reggie Jackson, the Detroit Piston. When he forced his way out of Oklahoma City in 2015, it was in hopes of shedding his sixth-man label. In 2020, after being bought out by the Detroit Pistons, he’s returning to the Western Conference likely as a sixth man.

In the time in between, he managed to shed the reserve label, but as the Pistons’ starting point guard, he left behind a polarizing legacy as Pistons fans on every platform argued about the viability of their starting point guard.

Since his arrival, Jackson’s health was often the most reliable barometer of success for the Pistons. It’s no coincidence that the Pistons best season since Chauncey Billups left, was Jackson’s best season as well.

If he was healthy, the Pistons were a feisty team. Not the title-contending Bad Boys of yesteryear but a team that could put on an entertaining show and hang with real playoff teams on a random Wednesday in February. If all things went right.

Rarely, during Jackson’s tenure, did all things go right.

Out of a possible 412 games for Detroit, Reggie played in 299 — 72%.

It wasn’t too long ago that Jackson publicly contemplated retirement.

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And when Jackson was healthy, the Pistons never built a team talented enough to go anywhere of real consequence.

Those two factors are out of Jackson’s control. Nonetheless, he’s drawn the ire of frustrated Pistons fans over the years, despite every report of Jackson being an exemplary human being. He even helped refurbish and rebuild at least 8 public school libraries with his DETermined to Assist Foundation.

Maybe it was the way he arrived in Detroit, a chip on his shoulder and “starting point guard” written on his shoes.  Maybe he was just a scapegoat for frustrated fans of a franchise that had been losing for far too long. Detroit sports fans are often a fickle and irrational bunch, there’s no denying that.

Jackson’s style of play didn’t do him any favors. Jackson was at his best when he looked to make others better and moved the ball quickly. He’s a good ball-handler, a solid shooter and a solid passer.

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But too often he would force up bad shots, pound the ball, and play hero-ball, forcing the offense to play on his terms. A wiser organization might expect that out of a player who forced his way out of Oklahoma City.

As a Pistons fan, I’d be lying to you if I said I was sad to see Jackson’s buyout news. This tells you a lot because I still watch Pistons-era Brandon Jennings highlights on occasion, like a forlorn lover searching an ex- on Facebook.

The core of Jackson and Andre Drummond was long overdue for a shakeup. So long that the team moved both for a staggering return of two end-of-the-bench players, a second round pick and cap relief.

Life comes at you fast.

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Ultimately, Jackson’s departure may have been a rare, real-life mutual break-up. The Pistons have mercifully ended their eighth seed aspirations and are upending the organization’s direction. Jackson was never going to be “the guy” on a contender, but he makes perfect sense for a playoff team, like the Clippers, in need of 20-25 minutes of solid point guard play.

The Pistons, on the other hand, lose one of the few players productive enough to keep them from completely bottoming out and one of the last avatars of the previous regime. A 29-year-old point guard with an oversized contract is better suited to play basketball for an organization with higher aspirations than obtaining a top-5 draft pick.

Jackson forced his way out of Oklahoma City because he believed he could be a starter. For six years he reached that vaulted, upper echelon of basketball talent but injuries and poor management derailed whatever remaining peak he could’ve reached. I’m not sad to see Jackson, the Piston, go but I am rooting for Jackson, the person, to reach that next stratosphere of NBA achievement: a championship.

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