Matthew “Showbiz” Jackson put on the perfect smile when he donned a Harlem Globetrotter jersey.
He put on the perfect show. He made people laugh with his jokes and goofy caricature. He awed them with his half-court, over-the-shoulder shot, which Jackson said he made 60 percent of the time.
Jackson’s bio describes him as one of the most successful Globetrotters in the franchise’s history, and before that he served in the U.S. Air Force, and before that he was a standout receiver at Savannah State, and before that a dynamic high school basketball star at Beach.
Now Jackson is coming out about the not-so-good things about his career as a Globetrotter in a new book that he co-authored called “Soul Bearers.” The book is a collection of essays written by nine different men opening up about their struggles, including substance abuse, compiled by best-selling author Cheryl Polote-Williamson.
Jackson will be in Savannah today for a book signing from noon to 3 p.m. at Indulge Coffee on Barnard Street.
“A lot of men want to be unspoken about what they’ve been through in life because it’s not the macho thing to do,” Jackson said about why he decided to take on the project. “This book highlights challenges that men face every day like women do, we just don’t speak on it.”
Much of Jackson’s career was all an act, he told the Savannah Morning News in a phone interview on Thursday. An act that hid and suppressed his struggle with alcoholism.
He loved his job. It helped him cope and forget.
“The best job you could ever have in the world is having the ability to put a smile on people’s faces every night,” Jackson said. “You can take your mind off whatever else is going on. That’s the best thing in the world.”
Dealing with his life outside of work became the problem. It drove him toward alcohol. He put in long hours, traveled constantly throughout the year — both in the United States and abroad — and hardly ever saw his family.
“To be a Harlem Globetrotter, you’ve got to smile and perform every night,” he said. “You’ve got to put on a show for the fans because that’s what they’re paying for. They don’t understand the behind-the-scenes.
“You try to numb the pain. You can’t reach out and hug your family, and they can’t console you when you’re 1,000 miles away.”
The peak of his struggle came in 2001, when his father passed away. For most of his life, Jackson said his father was never around, never in the stands for his basketball and football games. But the two had just reconnected, and Jackson’s father saw him play as a Globetrotter before he died.
“I was in a really depressed state,” Jackson said. “We had bonded and gotten closer, closer than I thought we would ever be.”
Soon after his father’s death, Jackson was arrested for a sixth — and last — DUI. He stood before a judge who knew who Jackson was and admired what he did but still sentenced him to 30 days in prison.
“I just had to face the reality that alcohol was at the root of my problem,” Jackson said. “No one wants to go to jail, but that was the best thing he could have done for me at that stage in my life.”
Things got worse at home. His marriage was hanging by a thread.
“It didn’t come to a critical point in my life until I started having problems in my marriage,” he said. “We would get into arguments over nothing. I would hear her, but not really hear her. It got to the point where I had to do something because my family means everything to me.
“It was difficult coming to terms with myself and facing myself. Once I could face me, it was easy. I knew I wanted better for me and my family. Getting back into church and getting close to God was the main thing.”
Jackson spent the last three years of a 20-year career with the Globetrotters no longer having to hide or pretend. A knee injury he sustained eventually forced him to retire in 2007.
“My life has been great since,” he said.
He and his wife, Veronica, reside in Buford, and they have six children. The youngest, Myles, is 15 and plays basketball, and Jackson isn’t missing his games.
Jackson said he has also been working on his own book for the past four years. “Hook Shot: My Story Behind the Glory,” is set to release in November. His essay in “Soul Bearers” will give readers a good idea of what to expect in “Hook Shot.”
“I’d been wanting to write a book,” he said. “I wanted to highlight my life, and this project came in the middle of me writing my book. This is going to be like a sneak preview of my book.”