Reggie Jackson barely had gotten to know his new teammates with the Los Angeles Clippers before the pandemic shut down the NBA season on March 11.
After his buyout from the Pistons in the final year of his contract in mid-February, Jackson joined the Clippers to bolster their playoff push but when everything changed and the NBA went on hiatus, he was sidelined like the rest of the league.
Getting back to basketball brings some sense of normalcy in an otherwise odd existence at the Walt Disney World Resort for the past few weeks.
“Guys are getting continuity; we’ve been apart from each other for a long time. We’ve been staying in contact a lot, whether it be group texts or guys’ Zoom meeting calls meeting up and chatting,” Jackson told reporters last week. “We’ve been building continuity and for myself not being here all year, it was a little tough coming over and trying to get to know the guys.
“This period has really helped me and been beneficial to get to know the team. We’re just getting after it in practice, trying to get our continuity back and get ready for this push.”
With the NBA in the Orlando bubble and a restart looming next week, Jackson and the Clippers looked every bit like a championship contender with an exhibition victory Wednesday over the Orlando Magic on.
It’s the first glimpse at basketball in the bubble, but it’s also a chance for everyone — including fans watching on TV — to get reacquainted. One of the most noticeable differences was having no fans in the stands and a carefully staged backdrop to make up for the visual absence.
It’s weird for the players, too.
“I don’t think (having no fans) is anything that you can prepare for. As players, we’ve been talking since we’ve been here in the bubble. We’re interested to see what the league does to try to make it as authentic as possible and what we’re used to,” Jackson said. “For the most part, we’re just practicing and getting after it and guys understand we’re going to have to find the inner drive ourselves continually.
“The fans are great for us and do a great job of energizing us; they make the game what it is. They definitely bring energy, especially when it’s down. It’s a way better experience with fans there, so it’s going to be tough without the fans supporting us,” Jackson said. “We know everybody will be watching from home but it’s a different energy when everybody is in the building.
“The statement is true now that we’re all we’ve got, so we have to rely on each other and bring energy for each other. We’re constantly talking, and guys are bonding more and each team is getting ready for that challenge.”
Jackson has battled injuries for the past couple of years and after playing just two games with the Pistons to start the season, he missed three months before returning to the lineup on Jan. 22 with 22 points against the Sacramento Kings.
Unable to deal Jackson before the trade deadline, the Pistons started their rebuild by sending Andre Drummond to the Cleveland Cavaliers and buying out the contracts of Jackson and Markieff Morris, who went to the Lakers.
His new surroundings still will take some getting used to, but he’s already had a head start, with the close bond he has built with Paul George in recent years. Kawhi Leonard, who has been cast as an odd character, has made an impression as well.
“Kawhi has a lot more personality than people give him credit for. You just have to be his teammate or be close to him,” Jackson said. “The guy is amazing; he’s funny and outgoing and he is who he is. I don’t think a lot of people get to see who he is, unfortunately for them.”
Although George and Leonard are the marquee players, Patrick Beverley is a vocal leader who binds the team together and he’s made his mark during their time in the bubble as well.
“Pat Bev is nothing but energy. He’s getting guys energized each and every day, whether it be yelling at us, being vocal and talking to each other and having fun,” Jackson said.
The Clippers are in the marquee matchup on the opening night of the restart July 30, facing the Lakers on TNT.