From ‘selfish’ to savior: NBA’s Reggie Jackson is for real

'Mr. June' always wanted to be ‘head of the snake,’ now steering Clips on amazing playoff run

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Reggie Jackson is proving he can be the man.
Reggie Jackson is proving he can be the man.
Image: Getty Images

Reggie Jackson always wanted to be empowered. Who doesn’t? But you could always tell early on that his career revolved around striving for that seemingly unattainable belief system.

Before his fourth season in the NBA, which was also his first with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jackson wanted to start. The issue was that he had been backing up some dude named Russell Westbrook — you might’ve heard of him.

“I don’t think about ever coming off the bench for any team,” he said, as reported by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“If that’s the role I’m put in, that’s what I’m put in. But since the day I thought about playing in the NBA, I’ve always been a starter. Everything I’ve thought about, whether it be middle school, high school, kids leagues, I never envisioned coming off the bench.

“For some people (starting is) important. To others, it’s not. It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised, and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team. The head of the snake.”

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Then teammate Steven Adams wrote in his autobiography that his Thunder teammates, who famously froze Jackson out of the offense in a game earlier that season, wanted him gone by the trade deadline; and added, “When he was finally traded to the Detroit Pistons, we forgot about him pretty quickly because we had new guys to welcome to the team.”

And, in Detroit, this time after his five-year, $80 million extension signed with the Pistons before the 2015-16 season, he faced some of those same challenges — but as a focal point on a perpetually losing team.

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Jackson was bought out in February of 2020 after only playing 14 games with the Pistons in the final year of his contract, signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and became their most important guard during the playoffs just 16 months later.

As in, right now.

Mr. June did it again last night, and you could convincingly argue that he’s both never been better and never been as crucial to a team. During these playoffs, in which he’s started in 14 of his 16 appearances, Jackson’s averaged 17.6 points, and 3.3 assists per game on 51 / 42 / 88 shooting splits. In his 14 starts, those averages have improved to 18.9 points and 3.6 assists on 52 / 44 / 87 splits, with the Clippers mounting a 9-5 record.

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There were the 25 points, nine rebounds, and four assists to help Kawhi Leonard keep the Clippers’ season alive in Game 5 against the Dallas Mavericks in Round 1. There was his 27 points, and 10 assists on 10-of-16 shooting during the Game 6 series closeout against the Utah Jazz in the semifinals. And, last night, to help keep the Clippers alive while down 2-0 to the Phoenix Suns, added 23 points and three assists on 53 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three. 10 of those 23 came in the fourth quarter within a four-minute span. (Paul George led the way for the Leonard-less Clippers, recording 27 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists in the 106-92 win.)

Per StatMuse, the Italian-born combo guard is now one of two players in NBA history to average three or more three-pointers made on 65 percent true shooting during a single playoff run of 15 games or more. The other is Steph Curry from four years ago, the Golden State Warriors’ second championship run.

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After the game, Jackson said he felt empowered by the Clippers organization, who offered him the opportunity after embarrassingly going down 2-0 to the Mavericks, both of which were losses in their Los Angeles home. Few things in sports are better than role players undergoing out-of-body experiences during the playoffs, but for Jackson, it’s beyond simply that. It’s career-defining while on a one-year veteran-minimum contract. It’s coming from seemingly every time the Clippers have needed him most. And, moreover, it’s what he always wanted.