Austin Reaves was backstage at the Manila Sneaker Expo, about to walk out on stage and unsure of what he was going to see. As a member of Team USA and as a Laker abroad, he’d felt the love from the fans in the crowd. But this? He wasn’t ready for this.
More than 6,000 people packed a room to hear him talk about his first signature shoe, Rigorer’s the AR1, but really, they were just there for him. They asked him questions about basketball and his personal life, and when he said he wasn’t single, they chanted “Tay-lor Swift” — a reference to a ridiculous rumor from earlier in the offseason.
“Damn,” Reaves thought to himself. “I’m actually known.”
This hasn’t been some concocted internet thing like the Swift stuff, though. Reaves’ game and his Lakers fame have collided during the FIBA World Cup, where he’s become one of the most popular players in the tournament.
Team USA is undefeated — scooting through the exhibition schedule before winning the first three games. Reaves is averaging 11.7 points on 57.9% shooting with a team-leading 4.3 assists per game while making a strong case for the 2024 Olympic team.
Reaves spoke about his experience, the bonds he’s formed with teammates like Mikal Bridges and Lakers fandom in the Phillipines. (This conversation has been edited for clarity.)
Dan Woike: You're a little over a month into this with Team USA. How's the experience been?
Austin Reaves: It's been great, and I really didn't know really how it was going to be. I didn't know any of the players. But I actually have been building relationships with some of the guys. And there's the common goal to just win. I feel like we've done a really good job to set egos aside and go play for a greater good. That's what the coaching staff has preached from Day 1. So it's been a lot of fun. I think we've been playing pretty good. Obviously, some things here and there we can work on. But I like what we have going around now.
You weren't sure how this was going to go in regard to playing team basketball. But it seems like you've picked that up. Has it been more fun than you expected?
Yeah, definitely. That, like we talked about, was kinda my main concern just because I've never been a part of something like this. I didn't know what to expect. But it's been very good in that aspect. There's been multiple times in games where we've tried to make one, two, too many passes like instead of someone just taking the shot that they'd usually take. They might try to extra it to the corner. And then that person extras it because they don't want to be that guy that's known for just wanting to get them up. Everybody's got that mind-set of not being that guy. That helps in the long run of just playing the right way.
What's been the highlight for you? How was it playing Dennis Schroder and Germany?
It was great. Getting to know Dennis really well [on the Lakers], getting to know his competitive spirit, especially when it comes to playing for Germany, I can tell throughout the whole year, just his passion for these kind of events. Playing for his country. So I knew going in that he was going to leave it all on the line. And I didn't expect anything else. He's a super competitor. But just getting to play against him, knowing him, seeing his family after the game, it was cool for me because it's been since that last Denver game [in the 2023 conference finals] since I've seen his little kids. And it was good ... we chopped it after the game about life, hoops, all that. It's always good seeing him, competing against him, because of how big of a competitor he is.
You're still doing "the Freeze" celebrations after threes. Is this your thing too now?
Yeah, if I'm going to do one, that's going to be it. From last year, it's kind of just natural now. I don't really think about it. I've never done a three-point celebration.
Your parents would be upset, right?
Yeah, my parents used to get so mad at me if I did anything after I hit a three. But now, they understand. My brain just goes to it. It's like second nature now.
Have you heard from teammates? What's it like to see them getting back to work in L.A. while you're across the world?
I t's great just to see everybody back, getting to that point to see everyone getting back together to start the season. Instagram, you see all the pictures, guys in the gym working out. And I love it. I haven't talked to many people back home just because the time is so different, never know when someone is awake, when they're not. But I think Phil [Handy, Lakers assistant] is going to be out here in the next couple days to work out and stuff. So that'll be good. Just everyone back home in the gym, it's great. Love to see it and I can't wait to get back and join them.
How's it been physically?
I feel great. It's been better than I expected. You look at it, you go down the list of minutes guys have played and nobody plays more than 25 minutes. On max, someone might play 30 minutes a game. So, it's not really like the NBA season where you're playing 32, 35, maybe 40 minutes. The minutes are way shorter. It is more physical, but, like I said, the minutes are shorter. I feel like we've been playing well enough where we don't have to stress ourselves out in any sort of way. Like, we've had fairly big wins so far other than the Germany game. But all in all, I feel really good.
Have you found some stuff you're going to steal and bring back to the Lakers? And working with them up close, has anyone really stuck out and been different than you thought?
The one that stands out would be Mikal.
You hated him right? (laughs)
I mean, I didn't hate him. I didn't know what to think about him back in the day. But it was just like, his energy. He's never in a bad mood. You know at all times, he's going to do and have the right intentions towards the game. He's not going in with any wrong intentions; it's always good. He's picking up full. He's not scoring a lot, but he's doing all the other stuff. We were talking the other day and he looked at me and said, "Bro, I don't care. As long as I can put a gold medal around my neck, I don't care. I don't care what happens. As long as we win, I don't care." That means a lot for me to hear. You go back to last season when he's with Brooklyn. Like, he's averaging over 25 after he gets traded. He's got the ball in his hands. For someone to able to adapt like that, really just care about winning, it's been cool. That's been the one I've kind of meshed with the most, on and off the court. As far as taking away stuff from guys' games, it's really more so been about the approach, the time spent either in the weight room or on the court. Not really moves or anything. It's more about the approach.
Did you know you'd come out of this with these kinds of relationships?
I had no idea, to be honest. Like I wasn't going into it like "I'm going to get really close with four, five, six" ... all these guys honestly. Like I told you when we were in Vegas, I really didn't know what to expect. But, being able to form a relationship with all these guys — it's not just Kal [Bridges] or just Cam [Johnson], Tyrese [Haliburton]. Being able to form a relationship with everyone of these guys, the coaches. The amount of time we're spending together, in a different country, can't really go out. It's hectic over here if you try to step foot out of the hotel so you're kinda stuck in the hotel. You're always around one another. Just being able to build those relationships, it's cool to me. Just because me, going in, didn't know them and didn't really have that mind-set of going in like, "I've got to make friends with these guys." Like it just happened naturally.
Have you been recruiting?
No, no, no. Not me. I would never.
You would never tamper. Players can't tamper.
No. I say the L.A. weather is good. And that's it.
There was an event in Manila for your signature shoe. What was it like to see that reaction? And what's it like being a Laker in the Philippines?
Yeah, that event was nuts. ... I've had multiple events, multiple meet-and-greets, but this one was different. They did an intro video while I was in the back, waiting to go out. And I'm sitting there, 'What could this be like? What does it look like out there?' And then I walked out on stage and I felt like I should go get a mic and just start spitting some bars or something. I felt like I was at a concert. The whole room was packed. It's all Lakers jerseys. Out here, it's basically Lakers. I think they like the Warriors a little bit too. But 80% all Lakers fans. And it's really been everywhere I've went. I actually went and played golf a couple days ago and everyone out on the course gravitated towards me, asking for pictures and stuff like that. But it's been a lot of fun. I never thought, me personally, I would be known like this. I could see it in the States because that's where I'm from, that's where I play. But to get that love overseas in a different country, it's a little shocking.
Has this been the most famous you've felt?
Yeah, this one was ... not over the top in a bad way ... but like over the top in the aspect like "Damn. I'm actually known."
How much golf have you played? As much as you hoped?
You sound disappointed.
Well, not disappointed. I didn't realize how quick this was going to go. We haven't had much down time. I think I've probably played three rounds. Now, it's every other day. You have a game and you have a day of prep. And then you play another day. And it's repeat. Not as much as I want, but I can put golf away for a little bit to try and go do what we're doing.
You said you played maybe 100 straight days after the season?
Yeah ... I mean, I don't know about 100. But it was every bit of 75.
This is probably a good reset.
I went out the other day. And I haven't been hitting my driver good, probably towards the end of me being in the States. And I played a tight course, kinda short, but I was blasting my driver really nice. I think it was a good mental getaway. Swing felt good.
What did you shoot?
One over. Three bogeys, two birdies.
Have you tried to have Steve Kerr facilitate a challenge with Steph Curry?
No, we talked about me just playing in the Tahoe event. I told him no disrespect to Klay [Thompson] — I actually, personally, like Klay and love his game. But when they had that match with [Kansas City Chiefs stars Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce], Steph could've used a little more help. And that I knew I guy and could potentially help that.
Yeah, I mean, I definitely, kindly, let them hear about it every now and then. More so Jaren than Steve. Steve, basically, the first conversation we had was him being like, "You know, I'm still not really over what you and y'all did to us this postseason. But much rather be coaching you than coaching against you." But, I think the guys on the team, more so, bring up the Memphis series more than I do. So it's not even really me. It's everyone else kinda letting Jaren hear about it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.