Justin Jackson has learned that God has a sense of humor as well as a sense of direction.
“Our plans are not always aligned with his plans. He has funny and different ways to show that,” said Jackson, who was traded to the Dallas Mavericks from the Sacramento Kings in February. “Those times when whatever you might want are different than what God has planned for you, he has a really good way of showing you that his plan is to always benefit you.”
Jackson’s favorite verse, Proverbs 16:9, has related to his NBA career: “In their hearts, humans plot their course but the Lord establishes their steps.” Drafted in 2017 by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round — and 15th overall — Jackson was traded to the Kings on the day of the draft. He played the 2017-18 season in Sacramento and six games in Reno, the Kings’ minor league team.
With teams and cities changing, different systems, players, and coaching routines, Jackson has had to adjust. Jackson, 24, has found security in his faith.
“That is the one thing that stays concrete. That doesn’t go up or down. Playing time may go up or down, shooting-wise may go up or down, but God is always there, always solid. He is always that rock you can hold onto,” said Jackson, whose parents Lloyd and Sharon Jackson live in Kansas City, Kan.
Jackson works on his game daily trying to improve “little things” to provide confidence that translates to the court. He wants to keep his reputation for hard work, hard play.
“He is a skilled guy, obviously a talented young player,” said Dallas center Dwight Powell. “He brings energy and gives us a spark offensively. He is long. He can guard guys in position. He brings a lot of positivity to the court.”
While the trade “at first was rough,” the Mavericks have been “great, super easy in transition.” Without God, Jackson would not be in the NBA. His goal is to play for God’s glory.
“It would be disrespectful, honestly, if you look at it that way to not give him glory. That is what everything comes to in basketball. God is the most important thing. Basketball can be gone tomorrow,” Jackson said. “Without Jesus we wouldn’t even be here. Without his sacrifice of dying for us, this life is null and void. He is the one who satisfies and brings joy to life.”
That is what his parents taught him, and that is what Jackson and his wife, Brooke Copeland Jackson, who were married in August 2017, want to teach their children one day. She played basketball at Florida.
“I’m trying to stand firm, to lead my wife and myself in a way that God has prepared me,” he said. “I want to lead spiritually. I think the biggest thing for me, I have said multiple times: His great commandment is to love him first and foremost and love his people. I try to live in a way where I am not judgmental. I try to love people and hopefully live in a way where people think there is something different about me.”
While Jackson accepted Christ as his savior and was baptized when he was 11, he began really living for Christ “not too long ago.” His goals are now more than on the court.
“My goal is to provide for my family and use this platform for God’s purpose. I want to be in the NBA as long as I can and use it in the right way,” he explained.
Jackson has participated in Down Syndrome events including World Down Syndrome Day (March 21). He has mulled starting a non-profit for Down Syndrome, a genetic chromosomal disorder. Brooke’s aunt has Down Syndrome.
“I do a lot of things within the Down Syndrome community that has opened my heart and shown me you can be happy if you have something like Down Syndrome,” said Jackson.
Powell said, “He does a lot of work. He will carry on the things he did in Sacramento, which I think is impressive. For a lot of guys sometimes it is difficult to maintain their relationships. He made it a priority to stick to what he is committed to as far as working in the community. I am looking forward to see what he does in Dallas.”
Dallas guard Courtney Lee, a Christian, said that Jackson is a spiritual leader. Jackson and guard Jalen Brunson, who was National College Player of the Year in 2018 and led Villanova to NCAA national championships in 2016 and 2018, attend chapel religiously. Memphis Grizzlies forward Justin Holiday has attended pre-game chapels when Jackson and Brunson were present.
“It has always been an important thing for our lives,” said Holiday. “When you go to chapel and see guys from other teams you know that you are not alone. That is very encouraging, very important to me. I love to see that, especially in young guys, believing in the Lord and rolling that way. I want to give credit to the Lord and go out there and play.”
Holiday has been in Jackson’s shoes. He was traded from Chicago to Memphis in February.
“My main goal, the one thing I’ve been trying to do this year especially since the trade — and actually I haven’t said this in an interview ever — is to trust in the Lord and play. That is literally what I’ve been doing. Whatever happens, it is meant to be that way. I thank the Lord for my game,” said Holiday.
Jackson has taken “little things” from other players to get his game “to be the best I can be.” At North Carolina, he was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2016- 2017, First-Team All-American, and led the Tar Heels to the 2017 national championship. During three seasons, he was one of just two UNC players to score 1,600 career points, shoot 150 three-pointers, have 400 rebounds, 300 assists. Rick Fox, who played from 1987-91, was the other.
With scholarship offers from 12 colleges, he chose UNC, he explained, because “it is one of the best universities when it comes to basketball. Coach (Roy Williams) does a really good job of always preparing his guys to play outside of college. That was big.”
Playing for the Houston Home School Christian Association before that, he led his team to the 2012 national championship in Springfield, Mo. Other NBA players who have been homeschooled include Blake Griffin (Detroit) and Michael Beasley (seven teams). As a high school senior, he won the Sullivan Award given to the nation’s best amateur athlete. He was a McDonald’s All-American in 2014, winning the Jack Daly sportsman award. And his high school GPA was 4.0.
“I thank [God] every day for the talent I have,” said Jackson.
He met Brooke his senior year in high school. She has given him a journal Bible and makes him laugh with “a lot of cheap trophies” including “Best Husband” award.
“I love hanging out with my wife, my dogs, going to the movies, simple things,” he said.
Last offseason, Jackson and Brooke went to Israel for a tour of the Holy Land.
“That is amazing,” he reflected. “It makes everything come to life. You read those stories in the Bible; now you connect things more physically,” he said.
He desires to stay disciplined in reading his Bible, staying “locked into that” daily.
“You go through crazy times in the world,” said Jackson, who likes to read about grace. “Jesus provides grace for everybody. It doesn’t matter where you are in life. It doesn’t matter what you are doing or what sin you might be caught up in. He wants to take you just as you are.”