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OAKLAND — During this frustratingly unpredictable season for the Golden State Warriors, few on-court stumbles were more galling than a 103-94 home loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 14.

After that game, coach Mark Jackson proceeded to an interview room and addressed the media in even, direct tones. He didn't pound the table. He didn't hang his head.

"We just didn't get after it like we normally do," Jackson said.

Less than 10 minutes later, Jackson was back on the court, not to unwind or to deconstruct the game with his assistants, but to preside over Fellowship Night, an annual Christian gathering at Oracle Arena. About 1,200 people had stuck around after the game, and by now had drifted to the southwest corner of the facility to listen to Jackson preach the gospel.

The setting was anything but intimate. The court was bathed in stark arena lighting, and colorful electronic messages scrolled everywhere. The final score remained on the scoreboard, the clock frozen at 00.0. A cleaning crew wound its way through the rows of empty seats, but Jackson seemed unaware of anything but his audience.

He didn't need any warm-up shots, either. In an instant, Coach Jackson had become Pastor Mark.

"Somebody say, 'Thank you, Lord,'" Jackson urged into his microphone after a very brief introduction, and they did.

"Come on, now. Somebody say, 'Thank you, Lord,'" he repeated, and they did, louder this time.

"I know some folks that would have lost the game and not showed up," Jackson boomed, his deep voice rising. "I said, I know some folks that would have made some mistakes, lost the game and would not have showed up."

Jackson's listeners seemed thrilled he was presiding. They were diverse in age and ethnicity, and they greeted his sermon enthusiastically, calling out words of praise and completing Bible verses for him when called upon. Some filmed Jackson with their cell phones. The service lasted more than an hour.

The climax of the event was an old-fashioned altar call. "I double-dog dare you to give your life to Christ," Jackson implored.

They descended to the court in an intermittent trickle, each stopping to hug Jackson. By the time the migration ended, some 40 people stood behind him like a choir. Many of them were children.

"God made him head coach for a reason," said 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who had spontaneously joined the service after watching the game as a fan.

Jackson would agree. He believes God led him to the Golden State job, just as he was guided into the ministry. He has proven adept at both, leading the recently downtrodden Warriors to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in more than 20 years, and co-founding a church in the San Fernando Valley.

He may be as surprised as anyone that it has happened this way.

<strong>'God told me to tell you this'</strong>

Jackson was raised nominally Catholic, his attachment to his local parish in Queens, N.Y., more or less confined to CYO basketball and Easter services. He attended a Catholic high school (Bishop Loughlin) and a Catholic university (St. John's), but neither was in any way a religious decision. Evangelical Christianity, Jackson said, used to make him uncomfortable.

He remembers riding in a hotel elevator during a road trip at St. John's. Jackson accidentally hit the button for the bottom floor, a conference level, instead of the lobby.

"And it was a church conference," he said. "And the doors open up, and there's people jumping and shouting and praising God. And I'm pressing the button, like 'close this door.' I was petrified."

Jackson's calling, as he has said many times before, came when he fell for R&B singer Desiree Coleman and she told him, as they sat in his 1987 Jeep Cherokee on their first date, of the path he would have to take if he wanted to be with her.

He committed, and three years later Jackson and Coleman were married. Within a few years, he was guest-preaching at his cousin's (he calls her Aunt Dolores) church in Brooklyn. Jackson was ordained in 1997. He began leading services in the theater room of the Jacksons' home in Southern California in 2008, and in 2009 he and his wife started renting the fellowship hall of a Seventh-day Adventist church in Van Nuys on Sundays. Last year, True Love Worship Center International moved into its own building in nearby Reseda.

It is not a place for quiet contemplation. The Jacksons' services are, shall we say, lively. The faithful hug and cry and laugh and occasionally speak in tongues. Mark works up a sweat, running in place or even taking laps through the aisles when he really gets going.

"And what makes it powerful is that he's anointed," said Melissa Winfield, a True Love congregant. "You can see when the Holy Spirit takes over and it's not pastor anymore, and it's God using him and speaking through him."

Desiree's singing is potent, and so, according to her husband, are her powers of healing.

"God told me to tell you this," Jackson said to his audience on Fellowship Night. "How can three years ago Steph Curry be an injury-prone basketball player, with ankle surgery after ankle surgery after ankle surgery, that decides to stop in to our Worship Center International?"

Jackson then introduced Coleman-Jackson, who was sitting in the front row. "So Steph Curry comes in church, and she calls him to the altar, and she gets the holy oil and she lays hands on his ankle," Jackson said. "Now some folks don't believe this."

As Jackson pointed out, Curry has avoided nagging injuries over two seasons since then.

<strong>Oakland to L.A. to Oakland</strong>

Outside of church, Jackson doesn't necessarily wear his religion on his sleeve. Warriors owner Joe Lacob supposedly didn't know he was a minister until hiring him. But make no mistake, Jackson is highly involved in the church — even during basketball season.

If the Warriors don't have a Sunday game or practice, and if the team is not on a road trip outside of California, Jackson will make it to True Love to preach. Frequently, that means coaching on Saturday night in Oakland, taking an early flight on Sunday morning and heading straight to the church upon landing, then flying back to Oakland on Monday morning.

Even when he's not there, he's there. Jackson records one- to two-minute mini-sermons that are uploaded to the True Love website under the heading "Morning Manna." Sometimes he calls from the road during a service, and someone holds the phone to a mic so he can address the congregation.

When Mark is unable to attend, Desiree does the preaching and he watches the service online. Jackson compares his style to Muhammad Ali, hers to Mike Tyson or George Foreman; he jabs and dances, his wife charges straight at you.

It's obvious that a lot of visitors are initially attracted by the NBA coach and his recording-artist wife. Jackson admits as much. But Mark and Desiree have worked hard to build a loyal following at True Love.

Jackson once spent an hour talking a church member, Rodney Taylor, out of suicide. Taylor's wife and daughter were later involved in a horrifying car accident. Jayla, 9, was killed in the crash. Gilani spent 20 days in critical care before she, too, succumbed to her injuries. The Jacksons were at the hospital all day, every day. It became a temporary base for their church services.

Neither Jackson nor his wife accepts a salary at True Love. They randomly hand out gift cards to worshippers at the end of services, and they largely bankrolled the bus that took 60 members to Fellowship Night at Oracle in March.

Not that Jackson is universally admired outside of his church. Some scolded him for saying that he was praying for Jason Collins and his family when the NBA center publicly announced he was gay a year ago. And then there was the scandal.

Jackson's lowest moment as coach of the Warriors, and almost certainly as pastor of True Love Worship Center International, came in June of 2012 when he revealed to authorities that he was the victim of an extortion plot revolving around his fling with a stripper in 2006. She had naked photos of Jackson and had enlisted a partner to blackmail the coach.

"The Bible says the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. ... To me, it was an attempt to try to assassinate me with something that happened before, to assassinate the next move of God," Jackson told The Press Democrat.

Jackson publicly apologized for his "extremely poor judgment" at the time, but it was a bad look for a public religious figure. He knows this, though he stresses that he wasn't ordained at the time of the affair.

Asked how he addressed the issue inside the church, Jackson said: "I dealt with it straight on. I never proclaimed to be perfect, and I don't justify a mistake that I made. You own it. I got a wife that loves me, that trusts me, that believes in me, and thank God that (He) didn't throw me away when I made a mistake."

<strong>Firing up a team, or a church</strong>

Jackson has always been a charismatic figure. He was one of the most respected players in the NBA during a 17-year career defined more by smarts and craft than athletic talent. He transitioned to a highly successful broadcasting career, and then, despite having no previous coaching experience, to his role with the Warriors.

The current that runs through all of it is nimble communication. Jackson can fire up a basketball team, a group of season-ticket holders, a television audience or a church full of worshippers. He changes his delivery to suit the audience, but borrows from his different platforms, too.

Before a game against Memphis this season, Jackson recounted to his players how he had gotten up early for a flight to Los Angeles the previous Sunday, dressed in a half-lit room and left for church. It was only when he got to the bright light of the sanctuary that he realized his suit, tie and shoes did not match.

"And I told them, this is a big game, and the bright lights are on," Jackson said of the locker-room talk. "But this outfit I picked in the light. This outfit, this group of guys, they've all been selected when the lights were on."

Sounds a lot like a sermon, doesn't it? And, yes, Golden State won that game.

Jackson frequently brings sports references into his actual sermons, too. Ali is his go-to athlete, but he also is apt to use Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan to demonstrate a point.

If he's preaching the next Sunday, Jackson usually starts kicking around ideas on Tuesday. It's not uncommon for him to put the finishing touches on a sermon in the wee hours after a Saturday-night game. It's another of those transition points, when the coach becomes the pastor or vice versa.

It can't always be easy maintaining the slash between coach/minister, especially during a trying season in which two of Jackson's assistants have been dismissed from the team, and rumors of Lacob's impatience fill the local airwaves. But Jackson describes himself as a born leader, and is certain he can thrive in both roles simultaneously. How long he will coach basketball, or preach from the pulpit, he cannot say.

"No matter what role I'm doing in life, I'm gonna shout with everything in me about how awesome God is, how awesome his grace and mercy is, and what he's done in my life," Jackson said. "That I know I'm gonna do until the day I die. Any other job, I don't know."

(You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.)

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