Catching Up With: PBA legend, defensive master Chris Jackson

Rey Joble

Posted at Aug 13 2022 09:34 PM

First of 2 parts

Millennials may have no idea how Chris Jackson played.

Probably the closest resemblance is to Ryan Reyes, except that the TNT guard has decent shooting and smaller than Jackson, but their on-ball defensive skills are quite similar.

Basketball historian Jay P. Mercado sees Jackson’s body frame as has some resemblance to Jason Perkins, almost the same basketball IQ as Joe Devance and can probably equal the rebounding prowess of Eric Menk.

But Jackson came at a time when power forwards were 6-foot-3 and that was the standard when it comes to height, but when it comes to skill level, Alvin Patrimonio and Nelson Asaytono were the barometers when the 6-foot-4 Fil-Am entered the PBA.

Jackson felt he didn’t have such skill set of a Patrimonio and an Asaytono, and for him to thrive in the PBA, he had to do other things and that is to become a stopper of those two superstar forwards.

And he quickly embraced that role to perfection.

“When I was younger, I was more of a two-way player. We would press and score. We would pound it inside and score. Our three big guys were All-Americans. I found my role back then with defense because we scored with pressing, trapping and pounding inside. Basketball was played different back then and remained so until I got to the Philippines. I got it in my head as a point guard to keep my teammates happy, see the mismatches, run the offense when needed, and play defense because it would keep me on the floor,” wrote Jackson in an exclusive online interview with ABS-CBN News.

Defense has become the calling card of Jackson and true enough, he went on to win the Defensive Player of the Year from the PBA Press Corps three times and was included in the league’s All-Defensive Team seven times.

For Jackson, stopping the best players – be it locals like Patrimonio, Asaytono and other top big men like Dennis Espino and Jun Limpot among others during that time, or even bigger imports, was somewhat rewarding even though casual fans would normally look for highlight reels and spectacular plays.

But for the coaches and teammates whom he worked with, Jackson’s work ethics, particularly on the defensive end were amazing.

Perry Ronquillo, who coached Shell to two titles and four championship appearances, recalled the first time he saw Jackson.

“I met Chris Jackson in 1994 when I was an assistant coach for the San Miguel-backed team for the Hiroshima Asian Games. Chris was one of those amateur players. This was before the draft. It’s an opportunity also for me to see these players, that if ever I’m going to make it to the PBA, then I’ll get to know these players, ‘eto magaling ito, eto pupuwede ito.’ When we got Chris, I really felt in my heart and in my mind that this guy really deserves to play for. He’s not going to score, but he’s going to do other valuable things in order for us to win,” said Ronqullo. 

“He was part of the starting unit but he wasn’t getting much of the limelight because he wasn’t really a scorer. But he really did a great job for us during that 1998 series.”

Twice, Shell was able to play for the championship. The team lost the side event Centennial Cup to Mobiline in a knockout championship match, but bounced back strong and won in Game 7 of the Governors’ Cup. 

Jackson’s defense was such a huge impact for Shell during those four trips to the finals. 

In 1999 All-Filipino, he played a key role, being tasked to defend either on Menk or Sonny Alvarado, as the Turbochargers went on to win the title and pulled off one of the greatest upset finals victories.

But whatever happened to Jackson, known for his stone wall defense?

He left the Philippines in 2008, returned to the United States and is now a realtor in California, but he has also made a career being a Notary Public.

Once in awhile, he would put on those sneakers and play hoops in tournaments where there were Filipino players seeing action.

“I traveled some, got married, raised a son who is now an adult, life stuff. I met more Filipinos here from playing in the leagues. It’s true that many Filipinos are basketball fanatics. I’ve gone all the way across the US to play in a two-day tournament. Leagues have 60 year old players. Plus here in California and in Las Vegas, there are tournaments regularly and Filipinos throughout the country play in them. I haven’t made it to Canada yet. Maybe one day I’ll play in a tournament there,” wrote Jackson. 

“Now, I am a realtor here in California and in Las Vegas. I’m also a Notary Public in California. If you know anyone from Manila looking to buy property here in Los Angeles or Orange County, or anywhere in California, or even in Las Vegas, tell them to get in contact with me. Ha ha ha. I’m working on my business. Due to the pandemic and now inflation, the market has continued to change. I was here in 2008 when real estate crashed and people are worried it will happen again soon. It’s not the same as then. It’s hard work keeping up with, so real estate related things like the economy, lending, interest rates, contracts, etc.”

But with an advanced age, Jackson felt the need to keep fit. 

“Getting back in shape is a priority for me again. I still have friends asking if I want to play in tournaments. There are at least three in September. It’s been years since I laced up my shoes and played but my juices are starting to flow again. I’ll do it. I don’t just play basketball, I’m a basketball player. It’s inside of me. And I still love the game.”

That love for the game brought back a lot of memories for Jackson, who made sure that his defense wouldn’t go unnoticed. 

“Defense is work. It’s character. It’s the idea that you will go out there and give yourself and all that you have for 48 minutes. You bang bodies when you have to, take charges to get your team the ball, use whatever speed and quickness you have, and help your teammates on defense because defense wins games. Defense is sacrifice. Every night, I was tasked to guard the best scorers in the PBA. I would get so excited when my Coach would say ‘you take so and so, nobody helps out Chris on defense. We stick to our own man’,” wrote Jackson.

“I had to be pumped up for it. I don’t think it was just me. I never asked the other guys who were known for their defense if they felt the same, but I imagine they did. Ask Yves Dignadice. Ask Freddie Abuda. Ask Rey Evangelista. Ask Rudy Hatfield. Those guys would outhustle guys so much that I would watch to see they played the game to get an advantage. We were all a little undersized at times because we often guarded the bigger imports (Americans) and players of the other team looked to when they need buckets. Ask (Marc) Pingris, I think he was a rookie when I was still playing, but I would like to know how he approached the game. Look what he ended up doing on defense.”

Jackson would eat, live and breath with his defense, but he felt those hard work were rewarded, especially when they won two championships with Shell – the 1998 Governors Cup and the 1999 All-Flipino.

But outside those two championships, there were personal accomplishments Jackson considered as somewhat completed his basketball career. Those were proud moments.

“I am proud I got the opportunity to try out for the 1994 Asian games team coached by Norman Black and the 2002 Asian Games team Coached by Jong Uichico. I made it as a reserve. Back in 1994 they had the winner of the conference represent the country. I was in the PBL and I got invited to try out. It was an honor to me,” recalled Jackson.

Eight years later, Jackson would get an invite to try out for the national team.

Originally, the team was to be handled by the late great Ron Jacobs, but he had a stroke which forced him to quit coaching and his protege, Uichico, had to take over. 

“In 2002, we had the pool. Players were invited to try out. It was cut down to 15 players and I was one of the reserves. On a side note, I believe we would have had a different outcome if Danny Seigle did not get injured before the games started,” he added.

Normally, great defenders are known for their toughness that sometimes it rubbed off on their personality, but Jackson was also considered for the Sportsmanship award, proving that he’s one of the nicest guys on the court.

“I am proud that in my early years I was up for the “Sportsmanship” award a couple of times. I tried to play the game with the respect that basketball deserves especially at the professional level. I played for the love of the game. I tell people, I do not play basketball. I’m a basketball player. I would sometimes apologize to players in the middle of the game when I fouled them and it was not called,” added Jackson.

But Jackson takes so much pride on his defense that he would probably consider those recognitions on top of his personal achievements.

“I am proud of my Defensive Player of the Year Awards and All Defensive teams I received. To me, that shows that the sports writers who voted appreciated what I brought to the games and players who voted respected what I did on the court. I am a believer in defense wins games. I approach basketball with the idea that offense is talent, it’s a skill, it’s a blessing or gift. Offense is creativity, an inspiration. Not everybody is that creative. That is why players can get into a “rut” or go through scoring droughts. Yon the other hand you don’t hear anyone say player looks smooth on defense,” added Jackson.

But while he may be dominating the game with his defense, it didn’t mean that role is an easy task. It’s perhaps an assignment many players would try to avoid and throughout his playing career, he had listed the players whom he considered as the toughest to guard.

“The ballers who stood out that I played against were Lamont Strothers, Sean Chambers, John Best and Kenny Redfield. The last two I played on the same team with also. You see, there are those who really can play the game, good ball players. There are those who know (how to play) the game, smart, understand tempo, and mismatches. And then, there are those who will not let their team lose. It’s rare when you find players that all of that combined. This is how I viewed the guys I mentioned. These guys know they can give you maybe 35-45, but they also know that they need to keep the locals happy and play within the team’s system,” wrote Jackson. 

“Remember, we had locals that could score. You have to give our locals respect for stepping aside for some of the imports (Americans). It’s no wonder the teams those guys played with did well.”

For the locals, he would categorized them based on their playing styles.

“I’ll start off by saying there were many good players. I didn’t like playing against (Kenneth) Duremdes and (Vergel) Meneses, simply because they were creative with the ball, smooth, can shoot too. Dennis (Espino) had a great body on him, strong. Jun (Limpot) was frustrating because he seemed to have his game in slow motion, but at the end, he would have scored 20 points. But If I had to name 3 as hardest to guard, the ones that come to mind at this moment that got me excited to guard were… Alvin Patrimonio, Nelson Asaytono and probably tied with (Eric) Menk and Asi (Taulava),” wrote Jackson. 

“Eric and Asi had me by height and could play. I wasn’t stronger than them. They were a “match-up” problem for me. Eric was a beast inside, hustled and could shoot. Asi would run the floor every chance he got, he would do that old “duck move” or seal, plus he had height… both didn’t mind banging bodies.”

But the players who were ahead of him and became a bigger challenge for him, probably pushed Jackson to become a better defender.

“Nelson? I swear there was one all-Filipino conference where he seemed to average 50 points per game! He would run the floor and just put the ball in that big hand and wave it around when he jumped inside, without touching it with the other hand. He could shoot from outside. When he got going he was hard to stop,” wrote Jackson.

“But my favorite to play against was Alvin P. Size wise, we were pretty equal. Style-wise, we both mostly played inside, he on offense and me on defense. I tell people that I respected how it seemed Alvin would add a different dimension to his game each year. When the bigger fil-ams came, he had to change his style of play and he remained effective. I felt that, more than other players, when his team needed a basket, they were going to him. Everybody knew he would get the ball. He demanded it. And I wouldn’t want to guard anyone else in that situation. If an offensive player wanted the ball, I wanted to guard them. That was as close to a “mano a mano” moment I would have on the court.”