The Ray Jackson Interview
5 May 2016
Coach Ray Jackson, from Oakland, is a community entitled “coach” who’s spent 25 years working at the Downtown Oakland YMCA. Coach Ray, born in 1947 has been giving help to those looking, for decades and is synonymous with the history of Basketball in Oakland. While his true love has always been Baseball, his reputation began when his athleticism was evidenced through Basketball. A self proclaimed skywalker in his youth, Jackson caught the attention of everyone around him, and was a role model for those who had the pleasure of watching him in his prime years. I met Coach Ray when I first attended 18 and up nights at the YMCA two years ago. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, he manages full court games of 5-on-5, manages the scoreboard, and even takes the duty of PA announcer, yelling the names of those who score for the entire gym to hear. As I made my way to the whiteboard to sign up to play, he asked me the same thing he does to every kid during 18 and up, “Are you 18?” Those are the first words most people will hear when meeting him because it’s indicative of his craft. It’s an example of his diligence and attentiveness when it comes to the job that he loves. Before even learning his name, Coach Ray made sure I knew all of the rules and policies that came with playing in his adult league. It would have stricken me as hard-assedness if he wasn’t so respected around the gym. After becoming a regular on Tuesday and Thursday nights, I learned to keep my ears open when Coach Ray is in the gym, and that he’ll do the same for you. As the ground bound coach of today spends his time instilling knowledge on anyone willing to listen, I thought that he’d be perfect for this community interview project, and help me learn more about the Ray behind the Coach.
Knowing he gets to adult nights 2 hours early, I got there 30 minutes before him, as the gym began to fill up with those warming up for the night games. I started with asking him, how he found the sport. From the Bay Area, he was a well rounded kid with both parents at home, a note that he held very close to heart, evidenced by his 30 year marriage with two kids of his own. He was introduced to the game by a man named Tom Ford, who coached Alameda College. Coach Ray reminisced on his game, as his favorite thing was to dunk the ball, and eventually became his downfall as a player. Landing awkwardly after a dunk, he hurt his knee so badly it would end up requiring two surgeries in the same year, showing me the scars to prove the point. While there was still some hope to get back on the court, the achilles on his other leg would end up tearing, sidelining him for good. His view as a rehabbing athlete with a love for the game would come to show him a new perspective on the game that players will typically get in later years. Jackson was seeing the broad view of the game, and the important takeaways that it can mean to a person’s life outside of basketball. That’s one of the biggest lessons he’ll teach through mentorship, and one he found when working at the YMCA. Sitting at a scoreboard table on the hardwood, Coach was picturing all those who’d come through the doors across the way. He pointed to a corner of the gym saying “You know, Jason Kidd used to shoot on that hoop you shoot on.” Smiling I asked him about his relationship with the now NBA Coach and soon to be Hall of Famer in Kidd. He described him as one of the kids that “You could just see it,” and one that “needed to fix his jump shot,” which was a big criticism of him coming into the NBA. Now I look at Kidd as a Coach, himself, and can point the finger to a contributor to his success off the court. Coach Ray doesn’t take that for granted, and it’s what keeps him doing what he does, as he said that “Everything is a classroom,” and his is that Gym on 24th and Broadway.
The things I took away from my interview with Coach Ray are few and far between. While he’s not necessarily your typical “sideline coach,” the title was given to him because of the ways he contributed to athletes if it happened to be shooting, dribbling, cardio-wise or anything necessary, he’s going to help. And I think with a lot of people, they have this egotistical way of thinking that, if you do something for someone, they expect some sort of reward, monetarily, socially, or morally. Coach Ray does not have that type of thought process, and I think it all stems from the injuries, seeing how quickly things are given and taken. It connects to the way Immaculee’s personality, the devastation and repercussions that better the self and those surrounding. It’s why Coach doesn’t tolerate cursing of any kind, and is happy to kick you out of his gym if you cross a line. He also embraces the role of the leader and the way they are supposed to keep everyone around them as a unit. One of the most lasting topics of discussion was the idea life and death. He said “I never leave flowers at a funeral,” because he knows, that person will never see it in passing. He continued “That’s why I’ll always shake your hand and tell it to you straight,” knowing I’ll never know how much he cares if he doesn’t tell me. It made me think how I could try to express myself towards others whether it be endearing or critical, before it’s not an option. The past four years of my life have been endearing a sport that hundreds of millions of people around the world love. After talking to Coach Ray, it’s become so much more about the people, as there is no game without them. It’s the same idea of there being no winner without competition. Above all else, it’s the connections that the game makes that should be remembered for, and what it should continue to accomplish in a generation where world wide connection is the norm. I know that I for one, will try to embellish his idealism as I continue to search for what I want to do in the wide world of Basketball.