To most people not named Jaxson Hayes, the Rising Stars Game during All-Star Weekend is an afterthought at best. If I asked you to name more than three players on any roster ever, almost everyone would struggle.
But it does matter to some, Austin Reaves amongst them. Anyone who watched “Last Dance” will know that even the smallest slights can motivate athletes to have that mental edge.
For Michael Jordan, it could be a completely fabricated story. For Reaves, it was the Rising Stars Game snub.
This past February, Reaves was noticeably absent from the Rising Stars Game despite having more than proven himself in his first two seasons. It was an omission that didn’t go unnoticed.
In a recent profile piece from Jovan Buha of The Athletic, Reaves spoke about that snub motivating him.
As Reaves exited the UNLV Mendenhall Center court after a Team USA practice, where he had just completed an around-the-arc 3-point shooting competition with teammates Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, he circled back to a slight that has burned in his mind for the last six months.
“I was hurt at that time, so I get it, I guess,” he said. “Not really, but …”
Reaves was talking about his absence from the Rising Stars Challenge, the glorified exhibition for rookies, sophomores and G League standouts that kicked off NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City in February. At the time, Reaves was just returning from a 16-game absence due to a hamstring injury, but he doesn’t think that was enough of a reason to be overlooked and not invited.
“It’s kind of a common theme for my life,” he said.
It may have been something small, but it certainly stuck with Reaves even as he was practicing for Team USA many months later.
Reaves elevated straight past a Rising Stars Game and into another tier after the All-Star break, helping the Lakers first to reach the playoffs and then serving as one of the team’s best players during that postseason run.
If that wasn’t enough, if the ensuing payday wasn’t enough, the Team USA inclusion this summer was more than enough. I’m not going to bother fact-checking how many players on Team USA’s roster also were part of the Rising Stars Game, but I’d imagine Reaves is one of the few — and likely only — players not to be part of the All-Star weekend exhibition.
Now, we’re well past the days of Rising Star games and onto the days of All-Star possibilities.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.