Move over Kareem, there’s a new bespectacled scoring machine in town.
Friday night, Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson, sporting a pair of black-rimmed rec specs after getting poked in the eye one game prior, lit up the Houston Rockets for 26 points, seven assists and four rebounds en route to a 126-109 L.A. victory. It was the Clippers’ fourth win in a row and 10th in their last 12.
Starting in place of the broken-handed Patrick Beverley, Jackson shot 71.4% from the field, including 6-for-9 from behind the arc, and was part of an explosive second quarter in which the Clippers scored 41 points in under 10 minutes and held Houston to just 10. Jackson went 3-for-3 in the quarter, all triples, along with two steals.
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After the game, head coach Ty Lue announced that Jackson will continue to start until Beverley returns, and judging from Jackson’s postgame comments, don’t be surprised if the glasses continue to see the floor as well.
“I’m not gonna lie, [it was] a little different, takes away a little bit of the vision,” Jackson told Clippers’ courtside reporter Kristina Pink when she asked how it felt to wear them. “But I think it honed me in a little bit more on the basket, so hopefully it continues to work throughout the season.”
Jackson’s the Starter but Has Plenty of Help
Jackson was joking about the honing, of course, but what’s no joke is that with Beverley out for at least three to four weeks, Jackson’s solid play of late will need to persist. In the Clippers’ last nine games, Jackson has averaged 16.1 points and 3.6 assists on 50.5% shooting overall and, crucially, 50.0% from behind the arc. Jackson will never replicate what Beverley brings to the defensive end, but as long as he’s holding serve in that regard and scoring buckets (something Beverley is less adept at) the difference should be negligible.
Also, Jackson does have some wiggle room with the recent addition of Rajon Rondo and from the breakout season of second-year guard Terance Mann, who has done well picking up the ballhandling slack for the thrice-injured Beverley.
Rondo, smelling the postseason, seems rejuvenated and re-focused since being traded by Atlanta, where he was having the kind of lowly season (3.9 points and 3.6 assists in 14.9 minutes) that would normally spell retirement for a player in his 15th campaign. Rondo was brought in primarily for his playoff experience and to take playmaking weight off the shoulders of Clipper stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but his defense is also on the plus side, meaning he and Jackson could find themselves sharing the court against smaller lineups.
Assuming the score-first Jackson continues to shoot well, he could be asked to provide offensive firepower to L.A.’s second unit or in situations where either Leonard or Paul are on the bench.
A Long List of Lenses
While Jackson may be the most recent player to light up the scoreboard behind a pair of glasses or goggles, he is by no means the first. In fact, a few of the greatest players ever have opted to use protective eyewear as a matter of course.
Top of the list is, of course, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The NBA’s all-time points leader (38,387) began wearing goggles permanently in 1974 after getting his cornea scratched for the second time, and went on to win four more MVPs (he already had two) and five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. The goggles became so much his signature look that they were used as a prop in the 1980 Zucker Brothers’ classic comedy “Airplane!” In which Jabbar played himself as a pilot. Jabbar also recently donated several hundred pairs of protective goggles to UCLA for help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coincidentally, Jabbar’s legendary Lakers teams of the 1980s featured two other players who preferred to play with rec specs—seven-time All-Star James Worthy (goggles) and zero-time All-Star Kurt Rambis, who was a fan favorite for his hustle and the Coke-bottle spectacles that made him look like a zany accountant who just happened to be 6-foot-8. The four-eyed trio won four titles together with the Lakers.
Another Laker who wore spectacles was George Mikan, who is probably known more to players for his “Mikan drill” (rapid-fire layups from alternating sides of the basket) than the fact that he is widely considered the first megastar of professional basketball. Mikan, who was with the Lakers when they were still in Minneapolis, only played seven seasons, but in that time he managed to win five championships and three scoring titles while leading the league in almost every meaningful big man category.
Outside of L.A., Bulls star Horace Grant was always bespectacled, and guys like Thurl Bailey, Amar’e Stoudemire and Moses Malone opted for eyewear in their later years.
The most well-known Clipper to wear goggles is Bo Outlaw, who played his first four seasons in L.A. before embarking on a career that would eventually span 15 seasons. Outlaw was never known for his scoring, but his workman-like reputation was surely bolstered by his workman-like accessory.
And finally, though he played baseball, it would be remiss not to mention the most famous Reggie Jackson of all to don eyewear. The slugger (who also appeared in a Zucker Brothers’ movie, “The Naked Gun”) wore an array of glasses over his 20-year career, belting 563 home runs, including three as a Yankee in the decisive Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers.
Basketball’s Reggie Jackson won’t be asked to hit dingers, but as long as he can keep up the success from long distance, the team’s future prospects should remain crystal clear.