It was late December. The season that no one thought would happen was a little more than 24 hours from tipping off and I waited outside of the vacant weight room for Reggie Evans, the newest member of a Clippers roster that could very well have needed ID badges.
Evans was known for his offbeat personality and monster rebounding numbers. And as I waited, leaning against the wall, I had little idea what to expect.
"I AIN'T IN NO SOFT CATEGORY"
To know Reggie Evans, you have to first understand he's the kind of relentless rebounder that could be compared to a hawk swooping after a rodent. He's not Dennis Rodman or Ben Wallace, but he's not far from them. His rebounding rate, which estimates the percentage of missed shots rebounded when a player is on the floor, is astounding. Evans tallied a 20.9 rate in 56 games this year (third in the NBA among players who appeared in at least 15 games). Rodman is the career leader in the metric with a rate of 23.4.
Yet Evans would tell you statistics cannot measure heart or passion. Nor can they measure energy, something Chris Paul said is contagious about Evans.
"When Reggie comes in the game and guys see how hard he's playing, it becomes contagious," Paul said in January. "You have no choice but to play hard when you see Reggie diving all over the court."
It was a testament to Evans' work ethic that he remained ready to play no matter how often his minutes fluctuated. In April he played as many as 14 minutes and at times as a few as three. To an extent, court time was difficult to come by. Blake Griffin averaged 36.24 minutes and DeAndre Jordan and Kenyon Martin often split time at center. But when head coach Vinny Del Negro needed to alter the game on the glass, he called on Evans, who was almost always inclined to oblige.
Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins was a bit blunter about Evans saying, "His impact [on the game] has been in his pushing, grabbing, and throwing people out of the way."
That's the way Evans plays. It could be considered no holds barred. He's part NBA power forward, part rebounding genius, and part professional wrestler. Once asked about the perception that perhaps the Clippers were soft, Evans disagreed. "Soft? I ain't in no soft category," he answered.
It was no coincidence that Evans' rugged defense in Round 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs produced results. He was arguably the perfect antidote for the so-called "grit and grind" mantra of the fourth-seeded Grizzlies. Evans battered the front-court duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and devastated Memphis on the boards. He averaged more than eight rebounds per game in the seven-game series, including pulling down 11 and 13 in Games 1 and 3, respectively.
He played the final 13:16 of the Clippers' historic comeback in the series opener, converting twice on the offensive end, including a layup to give L.A. its first lead with less than a minute to go. Moving forward in the series, his workman mentality carried weight. It was evident when after grabbing one rebound in Memphis' Game 2 victory, he bemoaned letting the Grizzlies push the Clippers around.
"You saw a little difference [in Game 2]," Evans said. "Even myself, I could tell they kind of had it out for me. They were trying to kind of be more physical to me, going into the second game in which it was kind of funny. It is what it is. We learned from the game. We're watching film, some good film today. They showed us some stuff where as some of the stuff we got punked around. They did a good job of being physical and it showed and the tape don't lie."
It was a moment of redemption for the man Paul suggested was the MVP of the series, eliminating Memphis in its own building in front of what had become an increasingly hostile crowd. "I like [haters]," Evans conceded. "It does rile you up a little bit. It makes you feel good when you have so many people going against you to kind of silence them and stuff like that."
At times, Evans, with his bushy beard and cleanly shaved scalp, had the Staples Center faithful at his whim. When he entered the game in place of Griffin, usually sometime early in the second quarter, it was hard to decipher whether their ovation was for the Clippers' young superstar or his vivacious backup.
In the postseason, the chants were persistent. "REGGIE, REGGIE" became a battle cry, somewhat replacing the oft used and more traditional, "De-fense."
Back in January when the Evans cult following began catching on, he was asked about it regularly. In a comic twist, the first question usually pondered if he actually heard the chants.
Evans, whose off the court persona couldn't be more opposite than the way he plays, would always smile and politely say, "Of course. When you have 20,000 or so people chanting your name, of course you hear it.
"I don't want to sound arrogant or nothing like that, but pretty much since I went to [the University of] Iowa the crowd has been saying my name. They said it in other places, Toronto and Philadelphia and stuff like that. It's almost starting to become natural."
Asked if he knew why he became so popular so quickly, Evans' answer was simple: "It's just hard work. The fans appreciate hard work."
REGGIE EVANS THE MAN
Evans is from Pensacola, Florida. His Southern drawl is definitely a clue, but so too is his Southern hospitality. He is kind, thoughtful, and appreciative. Prior to games he will discuss just about anything; his affection for the Big 10 Conference (home to his alma mater, Iowa), his opinion on league-wide news, why he dislikes the original flavored Starburst, or his family.
Reggie Evans the person is far superior to Reggie Evans the rebounder. I learned that when I saw him holding hands with his wife, Joi, as they walked across the street in San Antonio and when I met him in December.
He emerged from the Clippers locker room at the facility wearing a red Florida Marlins hat, matching plaid shirt, and dark blue denim. I had been waiting for a few minutes, and introduced myself, explaining that I wanted to write a brief "Meet the New Guy" story for the team's website.
Evans was pressed for time as the Clippers were scheduled to fly to the Bay Area for their season opener, but he never fidgeted. He smiled and answered my questions, explaining in his quiet voice why he came to Los Angeles and what he hoped to bring to the Clippers. He said something about rebounding and toughness and he was right, just ask the Grizzlies.
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