It’s easy to look at the 2.03 meters and 240 kilograms of chiseled muscle that make up his body or to see the effortless elegance of his gait and conclude that Reeves Nelson is a basketball player.
Technically you wouldn’t be wrong.
Four years removed from his two-year US college career at UCLA, Nelson has played basketball in some of the top leagues across the globe, including a two-month stint in the NBA. More recently, though, he is fresh off a 15-point, eight-rebound inaugural performance in a tough loss for Ironi Ra’anana of Israel’s National League (second division).
However, to classify Reeves Nelson as just a basketball player, reducing him to simply his profession, would be unfair to Nelson the thinker, the intellectual, the man.
It should come as no surprise that Nelson played so well in his Ironi Ra’anana debut, nor would it be outrageous to assume that he will star for his new club.
Nelson, although lacking a reliable outside shot, is able to compensate for being undersized at the power forward position by using his muscular frame and quick first step to attack the basket where he converts shot at a high percentage.
When asked about the level of competition and quality of basketball in Israel’s second division in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, Nelson explained that while he’s played at much higher levels than this, citing his brief time with the Los Angeles Lakers as one example, “the players here have skill, they know how to play the game, they play hard.”
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The Nelson I thought I would be focusing on was the hellacious hoopster who had an up-and-down tenure at UCLA highlighted by stellar play on the court, but marred off-court issues.
The Nelson who spent two months on the failed super-team experiment that was the 2012/13 Lakers before bouncing around a variety of basketball backwater leagues only to end up in Ra’anana for who knows how long.
To be fair, Nelson did speak briefly about the basketball angle of his life. He talked about his transition to Israel, which he claims was smooth because of what he calls his “gypsy soul.”
He discussed the Israeli style of basketball, which he noticed to be more loose – “it’s more run-andgun… these are high-scoring games as opposed to Europe, which will be [referring to the finals scores of games] more in the 60s and 70s [while] here it’s usually in the 70s, 80s and 90s.”
Laying out his goals for Ironi Ra’anana, Nelson maintained that just “to make the playoffs…would be a big deal for a team that just moved up to the second division.”
However, what emerged from the time spent with Nelson spoke much more to his individuality as a person than his role as a basketball player.
Reeves Nelson is a Renaissance man in the truest sense of the term.
In just over an hour at a coffee shop in Ra’anana, he expounded on topics ranging from meditation – which he claims has many concrete benefits for a person’s mind and body – to his outlook on religion, which can best be summarized as a nondenominational belief in a higher power, and being “a seeker of the truth.”
Between sips of tea, he went on to delve into both the Taoist teachings of Lao Tzu as well as the philosophy of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Despite his vast knowledge and keen opinions, what is most striking about Nelson is his sincere belief that everything in the world happens for a reason.
Nelson illustrated this point with the following rhetorical question: “Why is it windy outside?” he asked, before answering, “Because it is.”
He then went on to explain that if it is windy outside, it is so because it is meant to be that way. The sincerity of his belief in this principle – namely, that everything happens for a reason – explains how he is so content with himself and where he is in life.
When I asked if he was happy with the trajectory of his career, I expected an answer along the lines of how he wished he had made different decisions at UCLA and how he’s looking to work his way back to the NBA.
Nelson took it in another direction.
“Obviously there are higher levels I can play at with more money,” Nelson noted. “But where I’m at now is where I feel like I need to be, because I am here.”
Seemingly, the mere fact that this is the way his career panned out is proof enough to him that this was the way it was meant to be. More telling was the fact that Nelson was almost taken aback by the question, as if puzzled that anyone could not see that “fact” as clearly he does.
Nelson certainly enjoys the game of basketball and the opportunities it has provided him; namely, a platform to travel the world and experience different cultures.
However, he also sees the negative effects that the sport, and athletic competition in general, can have on people.
He speaks about the barbaric way in which fans riot for their teams in victory as well in defeat and how ultimately he hopes to distance himself from it.
Regarding his life post-basketball, Nelson explains that he would like to open a yoga studio specifically geared towards professional athletes so he can stay connected to the worlds of athletics from a safe distance.
The term “basketball-lifer” is often bestowed upon a person as a way of honoring someone who has dedicated his entire life to the sport of basketball. Many athletes are proud of this title.
Nelson is not one of them.
He is proud to consider himself the antithesis of a “basketball-lifer” – someone who appreciates his time in the game, but understands that his future lies elsewhere.
For Reeves Nelson, basketball is a chapter in his life, but certainly not the whole story.
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