Spencer Reaves got behind the wheel of his white Dodge Challenger and drove from Warrensburg, Missouri, to the Wichita State campus in Kansas to watch his little brother Austin play the final conference game of his sophomore season.
Spencer’s season at the University of Central Missouri had ended two days earlier despite his 29 points in every 40 minutes against Central Oklahoma, giving him time to make the 240-mile trip between the two campuses.
It was the last time Spencer saw Austin play in person before the Lakers played Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals in San Francisco.
On Friday, Spencer watched Austin play in Los Angeles to a crowd that has consistently chanted “MVP” at him throughout the season.
Austin fired a shot over half the field late in the second quarter, Spencer rose in his seat a row behind Jeanie Buss, the perfect angle to see him blast through the net.
Just like the shot he took when Spencer saw him at Wichita State, right?
“NO. He didn’t,” Spencer said flatly about a half-field throw in that college game. “I don’t even know if he shot that game.”
He did not do it. Austin missed five shots — all three — and transferred to Oklahoma shortly after.
“Probably didn’t score,” Austin joked in the Lakers locker room after the crucial Game 6 win when asked about Spencer’s trip to Kansas. “I really didn’t do anything at Wichita State.”
More than five years later, things couldn’t be more different. Rather than watch his little brother freak out, Spencer flew in from Germany, where he plays professionally, to see how Austin is comfortable playing the biggest games of his life.
In his first 12 NBA playoff games, Austin averaged 15.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Despite a lingering leg injury, he was tasked with defending Desmond Bane, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. He plays more than 35 minutes per game, behind only LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Starting Tuesday, he’ll get a shot at an even bigger stage, the Western Conference Finals, starting in Denver.
“He always lived for moments like this. The same goes for high school. Even if he wasn’t the right man,” said Spencer, who won a state championship with his brother, who was then a freshman, at Cedar Ridge High in Newark, Arkansas. “And when he was, he was never scared of a big opponent, that moment. He would do anything he could to win. He’s always had this competitive nature where he doesn’t give a damn.”
Spencer, who averaged 6.7 points and shot rate of 49.1% from the field for Brose Bamberg, first traveled from Nuremberg to San Francisco, with stops in Amsterdam and Los Angeles. Game 5 took him 25 hours.
His brother’s arrival this postseason came even faster.
Austin made his debut in those playoffs by scoring nine straight points in Game 1 in Memphis against the Grizzlies, giving the Lakers a lead in the series while also having another memorable moment when his mic caught him shouting, “I.” he is!” exclaimed. after the last bucket.
He scored 23 points against the Warriors on Friday, his playoff high, while ending up 24 points. He conceded five threes again, just like in the game against Cincinnati, but this time he made four.
“It’s special,” Austin said after the game. “Like I said, I have my brother here, my mother is here. It’s…I don’t know. I can’t really explain. But it’s not emotional when the tears flow, but the feeling when we were substituted three minutes before the end was very special.”
The timing couldn’t be better, as the two-year contract he signed as a permanent free agent expires this summer. The Lakers may offer Austin a four-year deal worth around $51 million. He’s eligible to make up to twice as much if he signs with another team on a freelance basis, although the Lakers have the option to honor any offer.
He is held in high esteem internally – a victory for the team’s front office, scouting departments and development coaches. His family and agents regularly sit with Buss when they attend games and he has become a fan favorite while earning respect in every corner of the dressing room, including from James.
He finally made the starting XI on March 22, and the Lakers have been 17-6 since then, counting the regular season, play-in game, and playoffs, while he even raised the Lakers’ expectations of what for a player he will be could possibly be.
After the Lakers took a 3-1 lead against the Grizzlies, James said speaking to Austin was particularly fulfilling.
“This is Austin’s first playoff series and we chatted after the game and he just talked about how much he loves it,” James said. “He said it was the greatest thing he’d ever seen in basketball. He said something else, but I can’t repeat it. But it brought me great joy to be able to be a part of the experience of others that this is the greatest thing they’ve ever done in basketball. I think that’s pretty cool.”
After Game 6, Austin, in a rare “Shit!” moment, said how special it was for him to have the chance to contribute as James tries to compete in a championship again in his 20th season.
“How cool is that?” Austin said.
The half-pitch shot might have been the most memorable goal of Game 6, but there was probably a bigger one.
After missing in the corner just in front of Spencer’s seat, he got the offensive rebound back. A swing this time, the Lakers on their way to second-half dominance.
After taking the shot, Austin celebrated the Lakers’ three-point celebration with the “ice in the veins” as usual – only this time he was staring directly at his brother in the stands.
“Perfect shot…” Spencer said. “He knew where we were sitting. And it was cool. For example: “Look where we’re from.” “Small town in Arkansas and now I’m going to score three-pointers in a closeout game in LA in the Western Conference Semifinals.”