OAKLAND, Calif. — On Feb. 22, 2004, Jacque Vaughn and Mark Jackson played against each other for the last time. They played sparingly that night — Vaughn as a backup point guard for the Atlanta Hawks, Jackson as a backup point guard for the Houston Rockets. Vaughn's Hawks lost to Jackson's Rockets 123-121 in triple-overtime.
On the surface, so much has changed for both men over the last 10 years. On Tuesday night, Vaughn and Jackson will oppose each other for the fourth time as head coaches when Vaughn's Orlando Magic face Jackson's Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
But both men would tell you that, although their responsibilities have expanded since their playing days, their approaches to thinking about the game remain fundamentally similar because of the position they used to play. As point guards, they constantly made decisions on the fly and had to view the game like a coach.
"The ones that really played the position, whether they want to coach or not, they have coached," Jackson said. "The real point guards in this league, to me, are like quarterbacks in the NFL. They're picking and choosing what to do, who to go to, who to stay away from, what reads [are there], how to react by being an extension of the coach on the floor."
"I've benefitted from playing the position my entire life and, therefore, I've been a coach, in my opinion, my entire life."
Jackson and Vaughn aren't the only ones.
Fifteen of the NBA's 30 head coaches played point guard in college or in the NBA.
The group includes the Miami Heat's Erik Spoelstra, Indiana Pacers' Frank Vogel, Oklahoma City Thunder's Scott Brooks and Los Angeles Clippers' Doc Rivers.
"My coaches in high school and in college would always preach that the point guard is the coach on the floor and you've got to think the game," said Vogel, who started for three seasons at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.
"You've got to understand why the defensive schemes are the way they are and kind of coach your teammates on the floor. Then, offensively, you've got to be the leader. You've got to be the guy that is literally the coach on the floor with play calls and knowing where everybody is supposed to be in the offense. I think just having that mindset as a player definitely helps you when you become a coach."
Three other coaches — the Toronto Raptors' Dwane Casey, Denver Nuggets' Brian Shaw and Boston Celtics' Brad Stevens — played both guard positions.
Brooks played for six different teams over 10 seasons. In his stops, he sometimes would kid his teammates who played in the frontcourt.
"Just rebound the ball and set screens, and we'll run the plays for you," he told them.
Now in his sixth season as the Thunder's head coach, Brooks was more thoughtful when he was asked how being a point guard still helps him.
"We see the game in front [of us]," Brooks said, speaking as if he still played point guard. "We see every player, every play develop, because we usually have the ball. But you're always talking to the coach."
George Karl won 1,137 regular-season games as a coach.
His basketball point of view was shaped largely during his time playing for Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina. Karl had been a scoring guard in high school, but Smith moved him to the point guard spot and also taught him a systematic approach to learning and playing the game.
"When you have half the coaches in the league being point guards, I think that's a little unusual," said Karl, who now works for ESPN as a basketball analyst.
"Guards have the ball in their hands. They have to make the initial and beginning decisions, and I think they are probably communicating more often with the coaches on what they want done. So your brain starts thinking that way."
In a way, Karl and Vaughn descend from the same tree.
Vaughn's college coach, Roy Williams, worked as an assistant coach under Smith.
Vaughn lacked elite quickness or jumping ability as a player, but he made up for those deficiencies by studying the game and by playing with toughness.
"He was a coach from Day One when I met him," said Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown, who played point guard at Boston University and was a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach when Vaughn played in San Antonio.
"He was so meticulous with his preparation. He was anal with the detail of how he prepared himself. He was a surgical type: set up, orchestrate, lead. A tough point guard. It's not like he was going to go have 30 [points] or dazzle somebody with jump shot after jump shot. He was not. But he was a strong presence. He had a strong leadership ability that our players listened to and the coaches recognized."
Vaughn's Magic players say he relates well to them.
Vaughn said being a point guard gave him "an overall feel for the game, an ability to really understand different individuals."
"It's to the point," Vaughn said, "where you have to be able to talk to a big guy differently than you talk to a wing player, differently than you communicate with your coach. Being able to be in the locker room and have that feel and that sense of change when change does happen — a lot of times point guards have the feel for that."
On Tuesday night, Vaughn and Jackson will need to make decisions on the fly when their teams face each other.
How little has changed since 2004.
"Being an extension of the coach on the floor, I always thought as a coach," Jackson said. "It really made my transition — I wouldn't even call it a transition. This is the way I always thought about the game as a player."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun