The first thing that stood out to me about Reggie Bullock was his laugh. It was in 2010 and I was watching the (now slightly infamous) clip of him, Kendall Marshall, and Harrison Barnes talking smack to Kyrie Irving at the McDonalds All-American game. You know, the "Andre Dawkins can't guard me" clip? Not the wisest introduction to Tobacco Road, but it was impossible not to grin when watching Reggie laugh at his own bold comments. That laugh. High-pitched, braying, unapologetic. The kind of laugh that makes you laugh, you know?
Reggie Bullock hasn't had a lot to laugh about these last few years. His shot at a national championship was derailed by the rash of injuries that crippled the 2012 team. His two-year tenure with the Los Angeles Clippers brought few opportunities to shine. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns, who promptly sent him down to the D-League. When he was called back up, he was traded to Detroit. His time with the Pistons has been hampered by recurring back and knee injuries, allowing him to appear in only 68 games in the past two seasons.
But all of that pales in comparison to the tragedy of losing his sister, Mia Henderson. Mia, a transgender woman born Kevin Long, was murdered in July of 2014. The killer has escaped justice. A suspect was arrested in the summer of 2015 and tried, but was acquitted in January 2017.
Bullock has described at great length the struggle he and his family have gone through. First, they had to come to terms with having a transgender member of the family, a situation that Bullock says they were unfamiliar with to say the least. "As a family, we didn't know everything we needed to in order to understand what she was going through," Bullock said this fall. It's a story all too common with families that have transgender loved ones. But there is nothing common about having to come to grips with the loss of that loved one at the hands of another. And with no convicted killer, there is no closure.
But Reggie Bullock learned a lesson from his sister before she was lost: "Live your life the way you want to live it and don't let anyone stand in your way...that's what she taught me." Reggie has since become active in preventing bullying against members of the LGBTQ community, particularly focusing on educating children: "No one should ever feel uncomfortable in their own skin," he says. Drawing from a painful past to do good takes immense courage, but he's proved equal to the task.
And last month, Reggie Bullock finally caught a break. Injuries had kept him in and out of the lineup through the first two months of the season, but in early December he returned to the regular rotation. And on top of that, starting Piston guard Avery Bradley was lost with an injury. Not only would Reggie play, he would start.
And he's made the most of his opportunity: Through his first 9 games back from injury, he has averaged 12.8 points per game on 59.5% shooting (48.7% from 3) and is averaging career highs in minutes per game. He scored a career high of 22 points against the Spurs on December 30th, playing against the likes of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. His play has drawn praise from his teammates and from his coach Stan Van Gundy, who has praised his improved defense on top of his offensive contributions. Most importantly, Van Gundy gives him the highest compliment an athlete can get; "He makes the other guys play well."
Bullock has gotten some attention lately from the Detroit press in light of his recent renaissance, and he was quick to shoot some love to a certain coach from Chapel Hill who taught him the importance of running the floor, which he says has been key to his helping the Piston offense.
Reggie Bullock has endured about as much as a 25-year-old athlete can endure over the last few years. And while none among us are so callous as to think that an uptick in scoring stats and minutes played can erase any of that, it sure does feel good to see Reggie doing well. No one, and I mean NO ONE, deserves a break more than him. And who knows? Maybe he's had a chance in the last month to break out that laugh of his.