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Ramsey: Thunder's Reggie Jackson obsessed with winning NBA title

By: DAVID RAMSEY The Gazette
June 25, 2014 Updated: June 25, 2014 at 9:21 pm
Caption +
Former Palmer High School star Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder this past season. Associated Press photo.

When Reggie Jackson returns to his hometown, he wanders through Palmer High School's cozy gym on Wahsatch Avenue as snapshots from winter nights fill his mind.

"Just memories of games," Jackson said. "The Doherty games. The playoff games. Our almost undefeated season."

As he looks around the big room, he's haunted by what he does not see. He hoped to leave a state title banner hanging from the ceiling. This chase for a banner pushed him out of bed at 5 a.m. on school days for a two-hour workout before his first class. This chase inspired him to average 29.6 points while leading Palmer to a 24-3 record in 2007-2008.

Still, despite all the work and all the points, there's no banner. Reggie and his Terrors lost in the state semis.

"Always bittersweet," Jackson said. "We wanted to be the best team to ever play at Palmer, and our guys needed a championship to feel that."

Jackson plays guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He will earn $2.2 million next season and should at least double that salary when he signs a new contract. He battles alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook against Tim Duncan and LeBron James and Chris Paul.

"I'm definitely satisfied with what I've done," Jackson said.

Even if he's still seeking his banner.

Jackson, 24, returned to Colorado Springs this week to relax for a few days. The relaxing ends Monday when he returns to his rigorous workout schedule. He will daily launch 1,000 jump shots and labor with a new weightlifting coach.

He, as always, follows a simple formula for success.

He's out of bed before the sun rises.

He embraced this rule at Palmer when he was a relative unknown who yearned to become Colorado's best player. This remains his rule even though he's a millionaire. He averaged 13.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists last season as one of the NBA's best reserves.

He wants more. For himself. For his team.

The chase for the title inspires him. The Thunder were the NBA's second-best team this season, nearly forcing the Spurs to seven games in the Western Conference finals. The Spurs then pounded the Heat in the NBA Finals. The Thunder, given the chance, would have delivered the same pounding.

Jackson has no use for second best.

"I thought I would have won a championship already by now," he said. "By my standards - for what I hold myself to - I'm behind. Yeah, I'm a little behind.

"I've always expected to be the best at what I do, to be the last one standing. I've always been bold, always just had that will. I don't take it as I'm just hoping for a title. I'm expecting a title, but I know a lot of work is going to be needed to get it. I do expect to win the title."

I join Reggie in his expectations. If, that is, he remains alongside Durant.

Durant is a quiet basketball revolutionary, an athletic freak of historical dimension. He combines a dash of Michael Jordan plus a touch of Rick Barry along with a heavy dose of Larry Bird, all in a 6-foot-11 package. He's a relentless worker, a devoted teammate.

And he's only 25 years old. He will win an NBA title.

The Thunder will pay Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka nearly $50 million for the 2015-2016 season, which leaves limited cash for the rest of the roster. Jackson can become a free agent after next season, when he might face a rugged decision. Chasing a title with Durant could require a financial sacrifice. He's eligible for an extension, and a hefty raise, July 1.

"Um, you know, that's nothing I can really talk about now," Jackson said of his contract negotiations. "We'll sit down, my agent and my brother and I, and try to get it done. Hopefully, we can get things done and find a way to make it work."

Jackson leans toward staying with the Thunder. He enjoys the gleeful, high-volume fans, and it's clear he's close to Durant and Westbrook, who double as his fierce rivals and his brother-like allies.

"We're always one of first three in the gym," he said. "We want to see who can get there first and who can stay the latest. It's great to be around individuals who are working just as hard as I am. They want to be the best in the world, just like me."

The best. This is Jackson's obsession, his burden.

Each time Reggie returns to the Springs, he searches for a banner that is not there.

Don't worry. He's blessed with the teammates and the work ethic and the gifts.

An NBA banner awaits him.

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