Once the plane landed and Reggie Evans began his ride through new surroundings, a distinct image emerged.
Brooklyn is his kind of town.
“It’s basketball heaven up there. You drive around the neighborhoods and see basketball courts everywhere. I can’t wait,” said Evans, the Woodham High graduate and 11-year NBA veteran power forward, who was acquired by the new Brooklyn Nets in a trade last week with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Evans, 32, joined by his wife and three children, threw out the first pitch before Tuesday night’s Pensacola Blue Wahoos game against the Jacksonville Suns at the Community Maritime Park stadium.
These are blissful times for Evans.
Once an undrafted player from the University of Iowa, Evans has made the most of his skills.
He won a roster spot in 2002 with the Seattle SuperSonics as a tenacious rebounder in training camp. That value has carried him through five other teams and quality contracts.
The Nets acquired the 6-foot-8 Evans in a sign-and-trade deal worth $5 million over three years. He is part of a reshaped franchise, formerly the New Jersey Nets, being directed by general manager Billy King. Evans played for King with the Philadelphia 76ers in one of his stops.
“For me to go from the L.A. market to a New York market, you can’t beat that,” said Evans, who maintains a permanent home in Cantonment and returns to the Pensacola area every summer. “Who doesn’t want to play in New York? Once you walk outside, you can smell basketball, it screams basketball.
“It’s going to be great to play in Brooklyn. I assumed I was going back to L.A. But everything just worked out.”
King wanted Evans for his rebounding and his toughness. Some of that was on display for the Clippers during the NBA playoffs. Evans averaged 3.0 points and 7.3 rebounds while playing an average of 18 minutes in 11 playoff games.
As his career has proven, Evans on the court has a nasty disposition. He has embraced being called one of the dirtiest players in the NBA.
It’s a far different personality than the happy one he exhibits off the court, though, where he embraces life with his two daughters, an infant son and his wife.
Evans attributes his toughness to the hard scrabble neighborhood in Pensacola where he learned to play basketball and survive to pursue his dream.
“That was how I was raised,” he said. “Growing up in Pensacola Village and playing against those big boys, and all kinds of things being said against you.
“That put that much more toughness in me.”
When he graduated from Woodham, after playing for demanding coach Benny Washington, Evans learned in college what avenue he needed to make the NBA.
“(Rebounding) was a big deal in college,” he said. “You had so many people who could do various things and it got to be a focal point of my career.”
Before the NBA’s lockout-delayed 2011-12 season that began in December, ESPN reported the average NBA career lasted just 4.7 years. And here is Evans, going on No. 11 and virtually assured he will play through age 35.
“I always had a great work ethic,” Evans said. “The way I had to come into the NBA, I had to come in through the back door. I feel like I should have been drafted, but unfortunately it didn’t work out for me.
“I just have an understanding what the need is for me. That’s my biggest thing, what the NBA needs from me and accepting my role and carrying on with that from day one.”