You know how you read a feature sometimes and everything is just consistently too good to be true? This is a fake feature. I didn’t go to Qdoba with Reggie Jackson. None of the rest of this happened either.
The crimson of Reggie Jackson’s Boston College hoodie is being accosted by the queso in front of him and I point that out. He brushes it off.
“Had this joint since college,” he says, “I’m not tripping off any cheese.”
This is Jackson. Pleasant, bothered by nothing.
We’re in a Qdoba in Edmond, Oklahoma and a family that just came from a soccer game sits a few tables away. They’re pointing, hyper aware that a member of their state’s team is so close. The young boy, decked to the nines in Nike soccer gear, click clacks his way over to our table with all the courage of the lion in The Wizard of Oz. He’s carrying a napkin and a pen. Jackson sees this the same time I do and lights up like Bricktown on game nights.
“My man,” he shouts, “What can I do for little Messi?”
The boy smiles.
“Can I have your autograph, Mr. Jackson?” the boys asks.
Jackson grabs the pen and the napkin out of his hand.
“Of course, little homey,” he says.
Jackson signs it, had me take his picture with the boy, then uploads it to Instagram. We throw our trash away and Jackson shouts back at the boy and his family again.
“Little Messi killing it.”
The family laughs and waves like they’re in a parade and it’s good to be Reggie Jackson.
These are the joys that present themselves to you when you play for the Oklahoma City Thunder: Burn or no burn, you’re a celebrity. Jackson, a second year backup point for the squad ticks off a little over 13 mins per for the Thunder, but to be with him in town you may as well be chilling with Caesar, strolling through the streets of Rome.
“It’s like this all the time,” Jackson tells me, “We lose by twenty tomorrow, get dubbed or something, and they’re still gonna come out. We’re spoiled as anything. Makes no sense, fans should be pissed when we lay an egg the way we do every so often, but they’re not, really. It’s fantastic.”
We’re winding through Gaillardia, the sprawling, upscale, beautiful monstrosity of a country club neighborhood that the majority of the Thunder players reside within.
It’s a wet March day and, even still, the children of Oklahoma are undeterred, still putting up shots in their driveways as the rain falls. We’re in Jackson’s Range Rover. It’s silver and it’s shining in the rain, glistening like some kind of great white shark on the hunt. A kid sees the Rover and sprints toward us. Jackson brakes and flashes a grin my way.
“This my little dude right here,” he says.
He rolls down the window. The kid pokes his head in.
“What’s goin down B Skittle?” says Jackson.
The kid, Brandon, talks and tells him about Bioshock Infinite and what happened at school with some girl named Ariel and Jackson listens and laughs and talks back through it all. After five minutes it starts to rain even harder and it’s time for us to part ways. The kid leaves, but not before doing a handshake with Jackson they’ve clearly worked on before.
“It was weird when we traded E,” says Jackson, “He’d taught me a lot.”
We’re in his kitchen now, drinking Gatorades and sitting on stools at the counter. He’s telling me about losing Eric Maynor.
“It’s a business,” he says, “They tell you that from day one. You can’t be surprised when dudes get dealt or bail for other teams or whatever. It’s all part of the business.”
I ask him then how he felt when the Thunder signed prehistoric Derrick Fisher. As is his want, he readies up the general ‘we, not me’ answer.
“It’s great,” he says, “He’s been through it all before and has proven himself time and time again. Gives us another veteran presence in the locker room, and is somebody I can always go to with questions.”
Despite how old the hat is on this response, Jackson says this without a hint of insincerity. He believes it when he says it, and you believe him.
Thunder fans and teammates are starting to believe in him more on the court, too. His Per 36 minute numbers this year are a steady 13, 6, and 4.5. He’s started to let that 7 foot wingspan work to his advantage, and, more and more, you see the freak athlete starting to rise up out of the hole most rookies seem to dig themselves.
“We couldn’t be happier with his development,” says Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, “More and more we know that when we put Reggie out there, good things will happen.”
Admittedly, that’s what stays with me more than anything with Jackson, that last thing Brooks says. Good things will happen with Reggie out there. That’d seem to be true. He’s the bandleader and the maestro of whatever situation he might happen to find himself in and, odds are, when he finally leaves, dudes and ladies are parting ways with smiles on their faces. Smiles put there because Jackson listened to them and laughed with them.
If you’re the Thunder, isn’t that what you want? You don’t just draft a player, you draft a citizen, too. Somebody that’s going to be a part of the community, for better or worse. In Jackson’s case, it’s so much better.
“I got drafted here and people back home was pumped for me,” Jackson says.
He’s helping a family shop for and pay for groceries as part of the Thunder’s side of the NBA Cares movement. This act is, admittedly, a smidge self serving, what with all the cameras and photo ops and ‘Thunder Cares’ T-shirts, but you get the feeling Jackson would do this anywhere. He’s happy to be here, that’s clear. He continues.
“They knew the kind of squad that was here, but they were worried about me coming to OKC and having nothing to do or whatever. I don’t see why people be hating on it, though. There’s good people here. Kind people. I don’t know why you’d want to wind up anywhere else.”
This is Jackson at his best. Without contrivance and entirely real an entirely present, being as good as he knows how to be, doing good things.
We leave the grocery store and part ways. I get into my rental car and turn the key and start the crawl out of the parking lot. As I drive, I see Jackson getting into his Rover. As he opens the door, another kid runs up to him. This time there are no cameras and no reporters. It’s just a kid trying to talk to a hero. Jackson turns around and flashes the kid two thousand watts of a smile. The kid has a phone. Jackson grabs it and turns the kid around. He snaps a shot of the two of them. The kid stands there and talks with him for five minutes, then hops into his mother’s Nissan Quest and leaves. Jackson waves as the van drives off.