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Original Issue

The Journeyman Jim Jackson/TRAIL BLAZERS

It was his postseason ritual. Every spring Jim Jackson, his
team not in the NBA playoffs, would pack his bags and head to
Chicago to visit his boyhood pal from Ohio, Bulls guard Ron
Harper. "I wanted to get a feel for what the playoffs were all
about, to soak up the atmosphere," says the 6'6" Jackson, now
with the Portland Trail Blazers, "so that one day when I got
there, I would have a little insight."

For three straight years, from 1995 through '97, Jackson made
his pilgrimage. He would stay at Harper's house. He would ride
to games with him and sit with Harper's family in the United
Center stands. He would even join Harper, Michael Jordan and
Scottie Pippen in their early-morning weightlifting sessions at
Jordan's home.

Along the way Jackson gained an appreciation for how hard the
Bulls worked and for how Harper had reinvented himself. Once a
big-time scorer with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles
Clippers, Harper had willingly become a role player for Chicago,
crashing the boards, diving for loose balls and often taking the
toughest backcourt defensive assignment. "He was a role model
for me," says Jackson, a smooth shooting guard who averaged 25.7
points for the Dallas Mavericks in 1994-95. "I saw how he gave
up part of his game to win a championship."

Last Saturday, after waiting seven years and 446 games to make
his playoff debut--the ninth-longest such drought in NBA
history--Jackson finally got to put the lessons he learned from
Harper to work. As Isaiah Rider's backup at shooting guard, he
scored 12 points in just 14 minutes, including a key
three-pointer in the fourth quarter, and did all sorts of
Harper-like dirty work as the favored Blazers whipped the
Phoenix Suns 95-85 at the Rose Garden. "I loved it," Jackson,
28, said of his first dip in playoff waters. "It was everything
I expected it to be."

From the moment he first took the court, at the start of the
second quarter, Jackson performed like a postseason veteran. He
called out switches on D, swung the extra pass to forward Walt
Williams in the corner for a huge fourth-quarter three and
clawed through a screen to get a hand in Phoenix guard Rex
Chapman's face, forcing an air ball in the final minute. It was
a typical Jackson performance this season, as plain and
unadorned as the JJ tattoo on his right arm. Although he
averaged only 24.0 minutes and 8.4 points, far off his career
marks of 35.4 and 18.6, respectively, he was an invaluable
contributor off the bench, keeping the Blazers' machine well
oiled. "He could be a starter," Portland coach Mike Dunleavy
says, "but he's willing to do whatever the team needs."

After the game Jackson hugged Rider as a shower of red-and-white
streamers fell from the Rose Garden roof. Suddenly all those
losing seasons with the Mavericks, New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia
76ers and Golden State Warriors were a distant memory. "This is
the reason I came here," said Jackson, who rejected bigger money
from the Clippers to sign a three-year, $5.8 million free-agent
deal with Portland. "I wanted to be in a winning situation."

Last year, when his Warriors failed to reach the postseason,
Jackson couldn't bring himself to visit Chicago again, but that
doesn't mean his ritual springtime meetings with Harper are
finished. "This year," Jackson says, "he's coming to visit me."

--Marty Burns