Former Knicks Star Mark Jackson Says Basketball in N.Y.C. Is All About the 'Grit, the Grind, the Edge'

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Mark Jackson attends "NYC Point Gods" premiere at Midnight Theatre on July 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 26: Mark Jackson attends "NYC Point Gods" premiere at Midnight Theatre on July 26, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

When former NBA player Mark Jackson was growing up in New York City during the 1970's, his 90-minute daily commute to school included two trains and two buses. "My mom and dad didn't know where I was at the majority of the day," Jackson, 57, tells PEOPLE of his childhood in New York City. However, the Brooklyn-born baller that learned to hoop on the city's concrete courts insists, "It wasn't reckless, it's just the way it was."

Not unlike his big city upbringing, Jackson, who appears in Showtime's documentary N.Y.C. Point Gods, says New York's basketball scene is all about "the grit, the grind, the edge, the competitiveness, the swag, the confidence, the struggle, the embracing of the bright lights."

N.Y.C. Point Gods, from Kevin Durant and Rich Kleinman's company Boardroom, explores the history and cultural impact of the city's gritty basketball scene in the 1980s and 90s. "A New York City point guard will give up his girl and his chain before he give up his dribble," former NBA All-Star point guard Stephon Marbury says in the documentary.

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Jackson tells PEOPLE, "I'm honored to have grabbed the torch from guys like Lenny Wilkens and Bob Cousy and Tiny Archibald, and was one of the guys that handed it off to guys that played after me. It's a tremendous story to tell, and I honored to be part of the group that was asked to, tasked to, tell it."

The 1988 rookie of the year says New York City "forces you to mature ahead of your time and puts you in position to be ready to conquer anything in the world, including ultimately, which we all face, is some sort of adversity."

Jackson says New York City's "Point Gods" have learned how to "be able to handle it and keep on moving." In fact, that durable quickness he learned from hooping in the concrete jungle explains the NBA legend's ability to adapt to change around the league.

Not unlike the city that never sleeps, basketball has seen significant shifts both on and off the court in recent years. Some analysts cite Stephen Curry and his shooting for the barrage of shots players now take at the three-point line, while others complain that the league has gone soft with flagrant fouls and ejections.

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What's more, as the game of basketball sees change on the court, sports media is starting to see a shift as well with current players finding new ways to talk about basketball with podcasts and social media, rather than relying on old school methods like post-game interviews.

But much like his attitude towards New York City's ballers, Jackson is prepared to adapt. "I embrace the realness of New York City. I don't have to guess how you feeling or what your thoughts are, you spell it out to me, and you make it easier for me to cut away from all the nonsense that's irrelevant, and I know if you're with me or against me."

By the same token, Jackson encourages the new generation of sports media to adopt the same realness he's found in the city. "I embrace any part of media that tells the truth and doesn't deal with, 'Because I'm connected to you, I can't say when you're wrong.' So I like the idea also of the person that's involved in the story now having a voice to review what's not true and put a stamp on what is true," says Jackson.

"Now we can begin to hold people accountable when they're not sharing the truth and just spreading gossip," he adds. "So, I value the new media and the new voice that today's, not just athlete, but today's celebrity and today's person has."

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The former New York Knicks point guard adds, "It's needed, and I think it's a heck of a platform to have, but with that platform comes a responsibility also."

The ESPN analyst also applauds the active players who are utilizing social media to interact with fans, namely executive producer and Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant. The two-time NBA champion is currently in the middle of a touchy situation with his team after requesting to be traded following a disappointing season. While the usual approach for athletes during an uncertain offseason is to lay low, Durant joined TikTok.

"Kevin Durant is doing a lot of incredible things and I'm honored to be part of his time," says Jackson, who confirms he saw Durant's "hilarious" post on the app. "I can remember growing up, and my heroes, I had no relationship with them, because I didn't see them on Instagram or Twitter or TikTok."

"You see them on the 11 o'clock news or something like that, but other than that, there was no relationship," he adds. "I think today, you now can have a relationship, and even in some situations, if you're fortunate enough, you can direct message somebody, so you can have an encounter with them."

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Durant's future with the Nets is still uncertain, but Jackson advises the Brooklyn basketball team to keep the 33-year-old champ. "If I'm any of the 29 teams, including the Brooklyn Nets, I'm trying to keep Kevin Durant and see how I can make it right," says Jackson.

"If I'm any of the other 29 teams, I'm on the phone trying to acquire Kevin Durant, because you win in this league with incredible talent, and there's no doubt that he's an all-time great talent, all-time great player."