Stephen Jackson looked at his buzzing phone and tucked it away, unanswered. He hurried to catch a connecting flight at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport that would take him back to Oakland and to the Warriors franchise he once helped to a historic playoff upset. Before he reached the gate, Jackson's phone buzzed again, this time with a text message. R.C. Buford, the general manager of the Spurs. Buford wanted to know if Jackson could talk to Coach Gregg Popovich. Jackson already knew what the conversation would entail. How could it be anything else but a return to San Antonio, the place where he found his basketball identity? After saying a short prayer, Jackson called Popovich. He spoke with Popovich and Tim Duncan, and rerouted his flight, life, and career. The Spurs finalized the deal and obtained Jackson for Richard Jefferson at this season's trade deadline.

A career had passed since Jackson left the Spurs nine years ago. He brawled in Auburn Hills, fired a gun into the air and got run over by a car in Indianapolis, and drew suspensions from five different teams. He also co-starred for a deep Pacers team that would have contended for a title had the fight not shredded the team's fabric. He provided the backbone of the "We Believe" Warriors. And he nudged the Charlotte Bobcats into fleeting respectability in the franchise's only playoff berth.

More than any other organization in the NBA, the Spurs are equipped for all that Jackson brings. They are prepared to benefit from the absolute teammate, the man who attends chapel before games and sang in his church choir as a youth. They tolerate the occasional, well-documented episodes, the infractions that appeared on police blotters and newspaper headlines. It is the good in Jackson, he is convinced, that leads to the occasional bad.