Most NBA stars believe they were born to fly. Jason Terry followed a different flight path to stardom. For most of his life, he was one of those focused, determined, courageous role players every team needs to win. Yet Jason was never the premiere go-to guy who made the evening highlights. It took a five-year sentence in Atlanta's basketball gulag and a trade to hoops heaven with the Mavericks in Dallas for him to finally spread his wings and soar. The trash-talking catch-and-shoot specialist is now an NBA champion. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Jason Eugene Terry was born on September 15, 1977, in Seattle, Washington. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the second of Andrea Cheatham’s 10 kids, by four different fathers, all united by her under one roof. Jason’s father was Curtis Terry.

Andrea was a tireless Metro bus driver. Curtis was a high school hoops legend. Also in the picture was James Johnson, Andrea’s longtime companion. But for most of his young life, Jason was the man of the house. He changed diapers, got his younger siblings to bed on time, and filled in when his single mom simply ran out of hours in the day.

Jason was a fan of all three Seattle sports teams—the Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks. He was also a gym rat. In a city where the outdoor courts are not always playable, kids hone their hoops skills in rec centers. Jason was well known on the South Side by the time he was 11. Still, no one saw the kind of talent it would take to fashion a pro career. When Jason was in 6th grade, his teacher told him his goal of playing in the NBA was a “foolish dream.”

Jason idolized Gary Payton, the lightning quick point guard who joined the Sonics in 1990. He saw how Payton dominated games with his defense and patterned his own style after the All-Star’s. By junior high, Jason was murder off the dribble, and he could hit long set shots, but he did not have a jumper. When his friends made an 8th grade AAU team and he was cut, Jason recognized that he had something to work on. He talked one of his pals, Francis Vela, into rebounding for him that summer as he took 600 jumpers a day.

By the time Jason enrolled at Franklin High School, he was the hardest working player in Seattle. He had a devastating first step, possessed great leaping ability, and was a superb defender. This got him the playing time he needed to keep honing his jumper. Other city players, such as Jimmy Rainwater and Lovell Brown, made the headlines, but it was Jason who was making all the progress. He grew to 6-2, with unusually long arms and a terrific all-around game.

Jason absorbed all the basketball he could, any way he could. In high school, he worked as a vendor at Edmundson Pavilion and Husky Stadium. Once a visiting coach grabbed a handful of popcorn from his cart on his way out to the court. It was Arizona’s Lute Olson. The two would cross paths again.

Jason hung out with Michael Dickerson, another local high school star. When Dickerson accepted a scholarship to Arizona, Jason started watching the Wildcats and eventually decided he would like to play there. Coach Olson did not exactly reciprocate, but Jason stayed on Arizona’s radar after leading Franklin to the state championship in 1993 and 1994. Though never a scorer in high school, Jason was not afraid to take the final shot for coach Ron Drayton’s varsity.

Prior to his senior season, Jason met with University of Washington coaches Bob Bender and Byron Boudreaux. He assured them he would play for the school, and then confirmed this publicly to reporters. But the more he thought about his options, the more he realized he needed to play ball elsewhere. Jason wanted to win an NCAA championship and be a first-round NBA pick. He was not convinced that this was going to happen with the Huskies.

Jason’s other options were not sure things, either—at least not until Arizona called. The Wildcats had expressed only mild interest him, but when two incoming guards reneged on commitments, a solid offer materialized. Arizona was a team built around its guards. Jason simply could not pass up this opportunity.

Jason called Bender—who himself had transferred from Indian to Duke in the 1970s—and informed him of his decision. Although Washington sports fans vowed never to forgive him, Bender quickly did, and later taught at Jason’s summer clinics.

Jason spent his freshman year acclimating himself to Division I play, logging around 10 minutes a game. In 1996-97, Jason saw increased action as a sophomore, alongside freshman sensations Mike Bibby and Miles Simon. His offensive game was as yet unpolished, but he became one of the team’s defensive stoppers and a rah-rah guy on the bench. Playing part-time, Jason nonetheless set a school record with 79 steals. Arizona finished fifth in the Pac 10, but with only nine losses the Wildcats earned a postseason berth with a #4 seed in the Southeast Region.

The Wildcats entered the 1997 NCAA Tournament with a team seemingly too young to make much hay. Coach Olson explained that they had the talent to compete with anyone in the tournament—how they finished would be determined by their mental toughness. Having had three clubs bow out in the first round during the 1990s, he knew what he was talking about. The Arizona players adopted the team slogan, “Only the Strong Will Survive.”

With momentum on their side, the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four, where Jason turned out to be a media favorite. He was quick with a line and a smile, answered all questions thoughtfully, and made good copy with his various superstitions and his signature knee-high socks. He also played well, as the Wildcats worked their way through the seedings to the Southeast Regional final against Providence. The Wildcats blew a 12-point second-half lead and demonstrated some curious time management techniques down the stretch, but managed to survive, 96-92. The three guards—Bibby, Simon and Jason—scored Arizona’s final 11 points.

To win it all, the Wildcats would have to beat #1 seeds UNC and Kentucky—something no team had ever done. Arizona had beaten the Tar Heels at the beginning of they season, so the squad wasn’t intimidated heading into its Final Four matchup. The Wildcats disposed of the Heels with relative ease.


 

 

 


Gary Payton, 2001 Heritage

     
 

The title game came down to a battle of Wildcats, as Arizona faced the 1996 winner, Kentucky, led by Ron Mercer, Scott Padgett and Nazy Mohammed. Arizona harassed Mercer all game and dared Kentucky to fire up threes. On offense, they wore down their opponents, ultimately creating a 2-to-1 free-throw advantage. Four UK players fouled out—a record for the title game. When Wayne Turner was forced to the bench, coach Rick Pitino could find no way to cover the Arizona backcourt players, who did a fine job handling the vaunted Kentucky press.

Still, Arizona led by just three points with under a minute left. When senior guard Anthony Epps hit a clutch three, Kentucky sent the contest into overtime. However, the exhausted UK players had nothing left, and Arizona won 84-79, scoring all 10 of its OT points from the charity stripe. Simon was the hero with 30 points. Jason finished with eight points and five assists in 33 minutes. He knocked down two of the three treys he attempted.

After winning the NCAA championship, Jason returned to Seattle and worked as a bellhop at the downtown Sheraton. He half-expected to be stopped whenever he walked down the hall, but to his dismay he went completely unnoticed. It provided even more impetus for him to get his game in order.

Jason spent his junior year as the first guard off the bench for Arizona, averaging 10 points and 20 minutes a game for the second straight season. He played behind both Bibby and Simon, and was generally regarded as the finest sixth man in college ball. As the season unfolded, he often found himself on the floor for Arizona in the waning minutes. He was a defensive stopper and more and more, a clutch scorer. The Wildcats failed to repeat as national champions, but finished with a fantastic 30-5 record. Bibby, Dickerson and Simon left for the pros, leaving the Wildctas with Jason and, well, not much else.

ON THE RISE

In 1998-99, Jason finally got his chance to run the Arizona offense. It was no easy task. Three Wildcat starters were freshmen, and the fourth was senior center A.J. Bramlett, who was not an imposing post player. Of course, Jason was not regarded all that highly either. That began to change when he began dropping 20 and 30 points on Arizona’s opponents. When he burned third-ranked Stanford with a game-winning jumper with three seconds left, Jason had arrived.

As the season unfolded, he singlehandedly led the Wildcats into the Top 10 and paced the conference in scoring, assists and steals. Even Olson had to admit that, without Jason, Arizona would not have even been close to a .500 team. Sports Illustrated and a handful of other publications agreed, naming him its NCAA Player of the Year over the likes of Richard Hamilton, Andre Miller and Elton Brand.

That spring, in the 1999 NBA draft, Jason went at number 10 to Atlanta. The Hawks had finished the truncated 1998-99 NBA season with a fine 31-19 record, finishing second in the Central Division. They defeated the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs before bowing to the New York Knicks, who went on the NBA Finals.

For the 1999-2000 campaign, Atlanta’s plan was to mix Jason in with Bimbo Coles to trigger an offense that now focused on newcomers Jim Jackson and Isaiah Rider. The team’s coach was former Seattle legend Lenny Wilkens, a fellow left-handed point guard. His strategy never clicked. The Hawks were atrocious, finishing 28-54. The lone bright spots were veteran Dikembe Mutombo, who led the NBA in rebounding and finished second in shooting percentage and blocked shots, and Jason. He started their final 27 games and averaged 8.1 points and 4.3 assists on the year, making the second team All-Rookie squad.

The Hawks were a year older in 2000-01, but no better, despite a new coach, Lon Kruger. Mutombo missed almost half the year, and Atlanta lost 57 times. Jason emerged as the team’s best player, averaging 19.7 points and leading the club in steals, assists and free throws made. He played 3,089 minutes when no one else on the roster reached 2,000. Jason spent the first two weeks at the point, then moved over to shooting guard, where he carved up defenders and became a consistent perimeter threat. He netted 30 points 14 times.

The following season, Jason was teamed with Shareef Abdur-Rahim. The plan was to use Jacque Vaughn as the floor general, but by the end of January the Hawks had moved Jason back to the point. As in years past, Atlanta was simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, as the team sank out of playoff contention and wound up with only 33 wins. Jason averaged over 19 a game for the second year and started to get the hang of the point.

Atlanta added a second scoring forward in 2002-03 inGlenn Robinson. Not surprisingly, Jason’s assist totals began to rise. He finished the season with 7.4 per game—seventh in the NBA. He also ranked seventh in three-pointers with 190.

Jason averaged a respectable 17.2 points per game for another new coach, Terry Stotts. Again, however, the Hawks struggled. Their record, 35-49, wasn't nearly good enough for a playoff nod.

It was more of the same in 2003-04, as the Hawks failed to reach the 30-win plateau. Robinson was shown the door prior to the season, and Abdur-Rahim was traded after 53 games. Jason once again was the major bright spot for Atlanta fans. He teamed with newcomer Stephen Jackson, who inked a lucartive deal with the Hawks after reaching the 2003 NBA Finals with the San Antonio Spurs. The two were good for 30 to 40 a night and also gave the team some defensive credibility.


Miles Simon, 1997 Sports Illustrated
     
 

Jason was finally released from purgatory in August of 2004, when he was packaged with a first-round pick and traded to Dallasfor Antoine Walker and Tony Delk. The Mavs were a solid 50-win team built around multitalented Dirk Nowitzki and young defensive whiz Josh Howard. Jason was brought in to replace Steve Nash, who had left for Phoenix as a free agent. Dallas was coached by legendary Don Nelson and owned by passionate Mark Cuban. Every home game was a sellout. For Jason, it was like playing ball on another planet.

The Mavs sputtered at times in Jason’s first year, and the Spurs opened up a healthy lead in the NBA’s new Southwest Division. He came off the bench the first two months before earning the starting point guard role. In a February tilt with the Sacaramento Kings, Jason went wild in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 points and winning the game with a bucket and a foul shot with a few seconds left.

In late March, Nelson announced that he was retiring and handed the coaching reins to Avery Johnson. AJ and JT connected immediately, and the Mavs ran off 16 wins in their final 18 games, nearly catching the Spurs in the process. Jason averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 assists as Dallas made the playoffs with 58 wins.

Jason upped his scoring in the playoffs, averaging 17.5 points in 13 games. The Mavs toughed out a seven-game series against Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and the Houston Rockets to move into the second round. There they fell to Nash and the Suns. The series was tied after four games, but Phoenix won at home and Dallas lost a heartbreaking Game 6 in overtime.

MAKING HIS MARK

In the offseason, the Mavs were forced to waive longtime star Michael Finley for salary cap reasons. Coach Johnson told Jason he needed him to become the team’s number-two scorer behind Nowitzki.

In 2005-06, however, the focus of the Mavericks was defense. The trade for Jason had been a part of that plan from the outset, and in his second season he found himself surrounded by aggressive young supporting players like Devin Harris, Adrian Griffin, Marquis Daniels and Desagana Diop. Dallas finished the year with 60 wins, second only to the Spurs. Jason averaged 17.1 points and shot 47 percent from the floor, leading a balanced attack that was often keyed by defensive stops and turnovers.

After defeating the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, the Mavs and Spurs collided in an epic seven-game series. It went to overtime of the finale before Dallas prevailed 119-111. The team's next test was Phoenix. Nowitzki had a great series, and the Mavs won three of the first five games. The Suns responded with a great first half in Game 6, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and scored 40 in the final quarter to win its first Western Conference championship.

The Mavs faced the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, guaranteeing that the 2006 champion would be a first-timer. Early on it looked like Dallas would wear the crown. In Game 1, Jason was unconscious, canning 13 of 18 shots and abusing his ido Payton off the dribble. He finished with 32 points in a 90-80 victory. Dallas won Game 2 behind a great performance from Nowitzki.

Game 3 was also going the Mavs’ way when Udonis Haslem stole a pass from Jason with just over a minute left. When Dwyane Wade came alive, the Heat made key defensive stops and stole the victory. Despite a heroic 35-point effort from Jason in Game 4, Wade continued to control the series. When the Heat also took Game 5, the Mavs had their backs against the wall.

Game 6 was a nail-biter. Jason went ice-cold in the second half, as did Nowitzki, but the Mavs hung in. With Dallas own five points with 20 seconds left, Howard canned a pair of free throws to make the score 95-92. The Mavs were forced to foul Wade, who missed two free throws. It was time for a patented momentum-shifting three-pointer from Jason, but this time his long-range bomb did not fall. The Mavs, in turn, became only the third team to lose the NBA Finals after winning the first two games.


Dirk Nowitzki, 2005 SI for Kids
     
 

For some players, the lingering memory of that missed trey would follow them like a black cloud. Jason, however, would gladly have taken that shot again, fully expecting to make it. He liked the challenge, embraced the responsibility, and accepted the consequences. That was a big reason why the Mavs re-signed him less than a day after he became a free agent in the summer of 2006. Jason kept his numbers up in 2006–07 and provided leadership and scoring. The Mavs finished first in the Southwest Division with 67 wins, but they fell in the playoffs to the lowly Golden State Warriors. It ranked as one of the greatest first-round upsets in NBA history.

In 2007–08, Johnson began tweaking the Dallas lineup. Harris became the starting point guard, and Jason spent much of the year coming off the bench. He played this role to near perfection, especially after the Mavs acquired Jason Kidd at midseason. JT averaged 15.5 points a game and led the team’s guards in shooting from the field. Yet once again the Mavs fell in the first round of the postseason, this time to Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets. A second-straigh playoff upset ended Johnson’s coaching reign in Dallas.

His replacement, Rick Carlisle, decided that one of the things that was working for the Mavs was Jason off the bench. In 2008–09, he made 74 appearances—all but 11 as a sub. Jason provided instant offense, nearly matching his career-high with 19.6 points per game. He was also second on the team in assists. Jason was named Sixth Man of the Year. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do about yet another playoff swoon. After defeating the Spurs in the opening round, Dallas lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games.

The Mavs began retooling in 2009–10. Cuban had come to the conclusion that the club needed more veteran talent. Too often, the younger players just watched Nowitzki do his thing. Over the next two seasons, the Mavs brought in Caron Butler, Shawn Marion, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler. Jason, meanwhile, continued to thrive in his bench role.

The 2010 playoffs ended for the Mavs again without the franchise’s first NBA championship. Not surprisingly, they entered the 2011 playoffs with low expectations. They had been down this road before, without much success. Jason and Dirk were the only holdovers from the 2006 NBA Finals.

The Mavs opened the postseason in solid fashion, defeating the Portland Trailblazers in six games. That set up a meeting with the Lakers. No one was expecting what happened next—a sweep of Los Angeles that suddenly put Dallas in position to return to the championship round. In Game 4 Jason torched rhe Lakers, hitting nine of 10 shots from behind the arc.

Next up for the Mavs were the talented but inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder. Jason hit for 24 in the opener. He added six assists in a Game 3 win and 20 points in Game 4, helping Dallas to a commanding series lead. The Mavs then won Game 5 and prepared to meet the Heat in a Finals rematch.


Jason Terry, 2005 SP Authentic
     
 

Of course, this time Miami had LeBron James and Chris Bosh in addition to Wade. After falling behind two games to one, Dallas came roaring back to take the series. Jason scored in double figures in all six games and also contributed eight steals and 19 assists. His 8-of-12 shooting in Game 5 gave Dallas its first lead in the series. His 27 points in Game 6 led both teams in the finale. As injuries bit the Mavs, Jason’s relentless movement kept the Heat from relaxing.

By winning their first title, the Mavs shed the label of a weak team that folded in crunch time. Jason bolstered his reputation as well. Known mostly for his ability to trash talk, he has proven that he is a champion and a leader. Boy, will Jason ever have fun now telling opponents what he really thinks of them.

JASON THE PLAYER

Jason has demonstrated the qualities that every NBA team looks for in a guard. He is both comfortable and effective playing the point, running the wing, or coming off the bench. He can nail three-pointers or take defenders off the dribble. He is quick and fast and relentless at both ends of the court. In short, Jason is one of the most complete all-around backcourt men in the league.

Jason’s leadership is unquestioned. On losing teams, he stayed positive, but could only do so much to turn things around. Once he moved to a winning club and understood the role he was expected to play, he took to it quickly. Having led teams to championships in high school and college, and having helped the Mavericks to capture an NBA title, his résumé is complete.


Jason Terry, 2010 Upper Deck
     

 

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