Long before LeBron, before Wade, before Kobe and even before Penny, there was Chris Jackson, Shaq’s original unstoppable teammate. A man Coach Dale Brown once said was “a unique man who the good lord reached down and touched on the shoulder to give him special skills.”
To most, the 6’1″ Chris Jackson is known as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf — the man who refused to stand for the Nation Anthem. Some will remember him as the only NBA player with Tourette’s syndrome. Some will remember him as the great free throw shooter who would have had an NBA record if it wasn’t for Calvin Murphy jinxing the ball. Dunk fans might remember him as an NBA dunk contest contestant who never dunked in an NBA game. Angry Steph Curry fans know him as the guy Phil Jackson said reminded him of Steph. My memories of him go back to the late 80s when he was the most unstoppable offensive player in college basketball.
It only took a couple of weeks into his freshman season for Jackson to let the world know about his scoring abilities. He scored 48 and 53 points in the first month of his collegiate career. His season-high of 55 (with nine 3-pointers) against Ole Miss came soon after. He would go on to average 30 points as a freshman and set the NCAA freshman scoring record with 966 points.
His numbers took a slight dip during his sophomore season (28 PPG), but his game continued to improve and was as deadly as ever with the ball in hands. He scored 40+ points 11 times, 50+ points four times and topped his 3-point barrage against Ole Miss by hitting 10 3-pointers against Tennessee.
While Jackson was shattering offensive records, his new teammate, freshman Shaquille O’Neal, was shattering defensive records. The raw 286-pound freshman became the first SEC player to block more than 100 shots in a season and recorded two triple-doubles with blocks. Also on the team was the “better center” Stanley Roberts. Most people probably don’t remember Stanley, who was the backboard breaking center for LSU and the Orlando Magic before Shaq, but Roberts was the better player back then. Sports Illustrated wrote an article about the first meeting between the two goliaths in practice and according to the story, Stanley Roberts had his share of dunks over Shaq and “rained jumpers over O’Neal.” Shaq even said when he played in the NBA that Roberts was “the only one who ever really slowed me down. His game is just like mine: Big, funny, silly — but he can shoot. I can’t.”
Soon after that year, all three careers went in different directions: Shaq would go on to become one of the most dominant college and NBA players of all-time; Stanley Roberts would struggle with injuries and weight problems before being banned by the NBA in 1999 for drug violations; Chris Jackson had a slow disappointing start to his NBA career until winning Most Improved Player in 93. A couple of years later, he committed career suicide with his controversial stance on the National Anthem right when he was playing the best ball of his NBA career.
Regardless of how his NBA career controversially and unfairly ended, I don’t think there’s much to debate on the topic of how great he was in college. Great enough to be called one of the best freshman of all-time and great enough to be called one of the greatest NCAA scorers ever.
“He’s a better human being than he is a basketball player,” said Dale Brown during Jackson’s freshman season. “He’s just a very unusual person and a very unusual talent too. He’s almost too good to be true.”