Before the season began, Reggie Bullock stayed home in North Carolina while the rest of the Knicks’ roster headed to Westchester to stage a minicamp, the NBA’s concession to the eight teams left out of the bubble restart to last season.
He still was trying to find his place in the NBA and starting up with a new coach whom he had only heard about, mostly about how important these sort of practice sessions would be.
But Bullock had something more important on his mind — family. He remained home to be in place when his twins were born, the two children serving, he believed, as a continuation of the family he’d lost.
Seven years ago, he lost a sister, Mia Henderson, who was murdered in Baltimore in what was believed to be a hate crime because she was transgender. And last season, his 22-year-old sister, Kiosha Moore, was lost, too, a victim of a shooting.
"Yeah, I definitely needed that time," Bullock said. "Losing a second sibling to something so tragic. My girlfriend, my mom, my family members and everyone, you know, they just told me to keep my head down and know they’ll handle all the things at home and just wanted me to focus and just go out there and play basketball and get back to what I love doing, putting my head down and working.
"Obviously, with me losing my two sisters and God blessing me back with two twins, that’s such a blessing for me. So it’s bringing smiles to my face. The energy, losing my sister, is now living within my twins. So it’s kind of like I still have my sisters here living through my twins."
Once he arrived, he found a family in New York, too. After a vagabond start to his career with stops with the Clippers, Suns, Pistons and Lakers, as well as brief turns in the developmental league, Bullock agreed to a two-year, $21 million deal with the Knicks in the summer of 2019. But when examinations revealed the need for spinal surgery, the Knicks reworked his contract to a two-year, $8.1 million deal, with just a small guarantee on this year’s $4.2 million salary.
He spent much of last season rehabilitating from the surgery and trying to earn minutes with two coaches who were gone by season’s end.
With Thibodeau, he had to prove himself again. And he has, starting more games than anyone on the roster other than the two franchise cornerstones, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.
Bullock has become the "3-and-D" wing, serving as a two-way weapon, usually guarding the most dangerous perimeter scorer and giving Randle and Barrett a consistent outlet for open three-point shots.
He is averaging 10.9 points and shooting 41% from beyond the arc. In the final 17 games, his numbers jumped to 36.4 minutes and 14.2 points per game, and he shot 44.2% from three-point range.
"I felt like I was starting at zero, but I knew what type of coach he was," Bullock said of Thibodeau. "I never played for him, but I knew that he was a hard-nosed type of coach, and I felt like he could be a coach to bring the best out of me, which he is doing. The things that he expects on the offensive and defensive end plays to my skill set. … He has a lot of belief in me, I have a lot of belief in him to prepare our team and myself, second to none in this league."
As Bullock has found his place, he has done it with little fanfare, slipping under the radar with little attention on his play even while playing in New York. Maybe now that the Knicks are back in the playoffs, Bullock will receive more attention.
But if he gets more of a spotlight focused on himself in the playoffs, it’s not just about earning his next contract or proving he can reach a higher level.
When his sisters were killed, he focused his attention on using what celebrity he had to help others. He joined in New York’s Pride March and even now, after practice, he works with Everytown, an organization trying to halt gun violence.
"With the energy the team’s trying to bring back to the city, me being a part of it being here in New York, and being a part of gay pride, being a part of all these different type of organizations, there’s no other place to be able to do that like here in New York," Bullock said. "So once the city starts opening up more and things are starting to open up more, I’ll be able to be more involved in a lot of the off-the-court things.’’
He will be a free agent at season’s end, and just as Thibodeau has appreciated his play, Bullock has appreciated the opportunity and the fit in New York.
"I found a home. I’m just happy and excited to have actually found a place where a coach and organization believe in the things that I do on both ends of the floor. I don’t look over my shoulder and wonder or think too much in the game. Fans are also great, the love and support that’s been given each player on this team and just the light we’re bringing back to the city, I’m just glad to be a part of it. This isn’t over yet, so I have to continue to just keep my head down to keep working, keep going."