After receiving a green light, Reaves and I entered the small corner office space with two desks with chairs, one of which Reaves threw his body into and laid back, breathing a loud sigh as he took in the peace and quiet.
Austin Reaves just finished running his camp that saw over 300 kids and their parents attend, all of whom went berserk at the sight of him. He signed autographs for over an hour-and-a-half and bounced around different groups of kids watching, giving advice, showing how he would make certain moves, and interacting with them in ways you don't often see an NBA player interact. Every hour, young fans would swarm him to collect more autographs and ask to take photos. Reaves never turned them down.
The back of Austin Reaves’ signature shoe has an ‘I’m Him!’ on the sides and half his jersey number 15 on each tongue. pic.twitter.com/Ut3mpZ8mzQ
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 16, 2023
This came 16 hours after Reaves made an appearance to promote his new Rigorer AR1 shoes at SneakerCon in Anaheim. While fans were told there were no guarantees regarding Reaves' appearance, hundreds waited around the KICKSCREW booth in anticipation. Reaves was not scheduled to sign any autographs or take any photos, but he still went out of his way to accommodate as many fans as possible. Fans mauled one another just to get a chance at a photo, autograph, or even a sighting of the Lakers guard who has quickly risen to fame.
One could argue that no player in the history of the NBA has had a quicker rise to fame than Austin Reaves has in this two-year span. He signed a two-way deal with the Los Angeles Lakers after going undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. By the end of his rookie season, Reaves turned heads as a potential NBA rotation player.
By the midway point of his sophomore season, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham had no choice but to start Austin Reaves due to his motor and high level of play. By the end of his second season, Reaves was a guaranteed starter and top three player on a team that just reached the Western Conference Finals.
With that success came a much-deserved four-year, $56 million max contract to remain with the Lakers, the opportunity to play with Team USA in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, and a signature shoe with Rigorer.
That's quite a lot to have happen in a two year span for a guy who comes from a small town in Arkansas called Newark with a little over 1,000 residents. Considering his upbringing, how on earth does one even handle that kind of rise and everything that comes with it?
“I think that for me, it's trying to stay at a very healthy high and low,” Reaves explained to ClutchPoints in an exclusive interview. “Like, somewhere in the middle, just to be able to play the game that I love, that I cherish. I think the purity of basketball is what a lot of people don't really understand. And for me, at the end of the day, it's basketball. Like, I get to play a kid's sport for a living and do really well with that and be successful and take care of the ones I love. But at the same time, I never would take it for granted. I know if I don't go be productive, that'll all go away. So like, it's really staying focused and keeping the main thing the main thing.”
Austin Reaves might've been the surprise of the NBA world this season, coming out of nowhere to lead the Lakers in scoring or assists. All that came with substantial social media attention, most of which he says he has not seen and tries to avoid.
“I'm a very laid-back person. I mean, I have Instagram, but I don't have Twitter, so like, I'll never just sit there and read about myself like I think a lot of people do. And it can be good. Like, when it's good, it's good, but when it's bad, people will criticize you and bash you for what you're not doing right as well.”
Despite signing the big contract and landing a signature shoe deal, Reaves has really only been a pro for two years.
In the final 21 games of the 2022-23 season, Reaves averaged 18 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 5.7 assists on an absurd 56.8 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from three. In the 16 playoff games that ensued, Reaves continued to play at a high level, averaging 16.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists on 46.4 percent shooting from the field and 44.3 percent from three in 36.2 minutes per game.
In eight games for Team USA, Reaves averaged 13.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game on 56.6 percent shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from three. Reaves was Team USA's second leading scorer in the entire tournament behind Anthony Edwards' 18.9 points, and he did it all while coming off the bench.
Everyone's heard the talks about how well players perform during contract years and the dropoff that comes after the new deal is signed and financial security is in place. Austin Reaves tries to avoid any outside noise, but he's very much aware that he has a lot to prove, and doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“That hunger is for sure still there,” Reaves told ClutchPoints. “I think that underdog chip, for me, it'll never go away, regardless of how high it goes. I genuinely believe that — there's always people that doubt but — there's a majority of people that still doubt what I'm doing. I think a lot of people think it's maybe situations that occur and then go away.
“People have told me, a lot of people try to compare it to the Jeremy Lin situation. For me, that's the stuff that keeps me wanting to get better. And that's the reason I've gotten to where I am. I've said many times I want to be able to, when I'm done, just look back and tell everybody to fuck off. Like, I did this and I didn't do it the conventional way. It took me the long route. There was a hard way, you know, undrafted, two-way, regular contract, and then stuff panning out. But that'll never change, that mindset will always be there.”
The end-of-season expectations when you play for the Los Angeles Lakers is a championship. Anything short of that is considered a disappointment. It's something Austin Reaves feels every day, but not necessarily something he needs to be reminded of.
Despite fighting for a contract and a future in the NBA, Reaves sole focus upon entering the league was on winning.
“For me, it's all about winning. Individual success comes with team success. Everybody looks good when you're winning. Regardless of whether you're averaging 8 to 12 points or you're playing 20 minutes, if you go win a championship, even if you're not playing a lot, someone on a different team or organization is going to look and be like, oh, ‘this is a winner.'
“That's always my goal, is to win. Then getting that kind of first playoff taste and feeling… The whole time, the whole summer, like I just want to win a championship, that's it. That's goal number one, that's goal two, goal three, and goal four. That's really it for me.”
That goal directly lines up with head coach Darvin Ham and the rest of the Lakers organization. Like Reaves, Ham went undrafted in the 1996 NBA Draft, but carved a role for himself in the league where he finished playing eight seasons.
“The last player that I can think of that had that kind of ‘come-up' was my brother Ben Wallace,” Darvin Ham admitted to ClutchPoints in an August exclusive interview. “Going from being undrafted to being a Hall-of-Famer, and I think Austin, with the type of person he is, the work he puts in, the way he cares about his teammates, the way he stays in the moment, I see his trajectory being very similar.”
Austin Reaves shot the lights out of the gym during the postseason. In his typical selfless fashion, however, he credited teammates like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, D'Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura for allowing to get so many great looks.
Among players to play at least 31 minutes per game in the playoffs and reach at least the second round, Austin Reaves had the third highest true shooting percentage. His 61.6 percent true shooting percentage sat only behind Devin Booker's 68.6 percent and Nikola Jokic's 63.1 percent. And we know Booker had an historic postseason while Nikola Jokic went on win the NBA Championship and Finals MVP award.
“That's one thing I pride myself on, or try to pride myself on, is being efficient. If you look at the guys I've played with, I didn't shoot the three good in my rookie year on less attempts, obviously. But if you look at the guys I'm playing with now, you can go down the line: You've got Bron, AD, D-Lo, Rui. Like, why am I going to go out there and take questionable shots? I'm going to take good shots. We have enough talent, so if everybody buys into that, we're going to get good looks every possession. Once you get good looks, percentages go up. Obviously, you got Bron and AD, like, they're not taking questionable shots because they're that good. They're good shots for them.
“For me, it's just like, it's taking the right shot, making the right basketball play. You know, I have high belief in shot making ability for myself. So, shots that you kind of think, ‘oh, what the?' I work on those shots, so, I feel comfortable taking them.”
Head coach Darvin Ham has undoubtedly been a calming presence and a big reason why Austin Reaves has been able to play at a high level so quickly. With their similar backgrounds as undrafted players who made it to the NBA, Reaves and Ham put their trust in one another. Now, we're seeing it pay off.
“I love the kid man,” Darvin Ham told ClutchPoints. “He's phenomenal. He's a great person to come to work and see every day. I'm so happy, we're so humbled by the fact that he's on our team. The way he works, he represents everything that we're about as a program.”
“For him to be a first-year head coach,” Reaves said. “Obviously taking on a job that's tough, being anything with the Lakers is tough. You always have that persona that you should go win a championship, whether it's fair or not. Like, that's just how people think about that. So, I've seen him grow into that head coaching job and like for him to kind of get it out the mud the way that I feel like I have — him as a coach me as a player. He did it as a player as well too obviously — I feel like we connected on that early like, ‘okay like I know this guy wants to win like regardless of anything else like X's and O's, might mess up like at the end of the day he's doing what he thinks is gonna win the game,' and you can't ever question that because at the end of the day, like I said he's a winner. He wants to win, he supports his players, all of us, he'll never throw anyone under the bus, he'll take all the blame. He don't care about all that, so that relationship is great.”
Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers is a dream come true for Reaves. Playing under a coach like Darvin Ham instills the type of confidence that will never waver. Having a shoe deal with Rigorer at such an early point in his career is an incredible blessing.
But playing alongside LeBron James, a player many consider to be the GOAT or, at worst, the second greatest player in NBA history? A once-in-a-lifetime experience, Austin Reaves says doesn't think about it often, but it's something his friends never let him get used to.
“I remember my rookie year, it was actually Trent,” Reaves said referring to his good friend who attended the last two days worth of events with him. “I think I was I was back home and we were golfing or something, and LeBron had texted me or something. I seen Bron's name on my phone, I was thinking out loud like, ‘Oh, what does Bron want?' Trent was sitting there and he was like, ‘the fact that you can literally just sit there and say that [is crazy].' Now, me being me, I just wasn't even think anything about it and he was like, ‘No, the fact that he was like you could pick up the phone and call LeBron probably any time and he'd answer… The fact of that is crazy.'
“And it is. Obviously, from where I'm from and you know the high plateau that he's on. It's crazy because everybody back home is always like, ‘how's LeBron, how's LeBron,' and he's the best. Great teammate, great person, good friend. Has been someone that I owe a lot of appreciation to because he's helped me out so much.”
James might've even taught Reaves a thing or two about how to draw contact, because in the 23 games after the All-Star break, Austin took more free throws per game than LeBron. In fact, Reaves ranked 10th in the league in total free throws attempted after the All-Star break at 146.
The free throw numbers had social media on fire for weeks, but especially during a four-game span in March in which Reaves attempted 53 free throws.
I closed out our conversation by jokingly asking Reaves about the free throw numbers and his response to some of the claims of foul-baiting.
“Shit, stop fouling me. It's that simple.”