It isn't too often you read a profile of an athlete on Sports Illustrated that leads with a reference to Monkey D. Luffy. It's impossible not to mention the One Piece protagonist and other anime heroes when discussing Memphis Grizzlies rookie Jaren Jackson Jr., though. Currently the youngest player to hit the court in the NBA this season, Jackson has been hooked since he discovered Dragon Ball Z back in the day, and the shonen spirit is alive and well in his impressive stats alone.
The Sports Illustrated profile in question dives deep into Jackson's basketball history, and the whole story is definitely worth a read. There are some key details that will be of particular interest to anime fans. Like Luffy, Jackson is primed to lead the charge for the future of his team. 33-year-old center Marc Gasol isn't quite ready to hand the spotlight over completely, but he says Jackson is "the guy who's going to carry on with the franchise for the next 10, 15 years."
Photo via ESPN
That might not be as long as One Piece's eventual run, but it's clear the 19-year-old newcomer has vast potential ahead of him. He's already right behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the third-youngest player in history to rack up 30 points in an NBA game. As for the anime that inspires him, here's what he had to say about it:
"It's real lit … Everything's exaggerated. It's different than any type of show you'd watch. Everything's over the top and then some. Emotions are crazy. The fighting's crazy."
Jackson is also a fan of Naruto, but there are special reasons for his connection to Luffy.
"He's real stretchy. He'll just beat you down and he'll act real casual about it, which is the funny part … He just acts like it's an everyday thing, but like, he just kills somebody. Just goes off."
While he doesn't boast Devil Fruit powers of his own, Jackson's stats point to some level of superhuman ability. He's seventh in the NBA in blocks, and he's currently among the limited list of players boasting over 35% success with three-pointers. The NBA equivalent to King of the Pirates may be a lofty goal, but Jackson always has anime to push him to stretch as far as he possibly can.