In the first of a new series titled ‘NBA Cult Heroes’ we look back on the career of Bryant Reeves, a.k.a. Big Country.
There are some NBA greats who have been baptised with some iconic nicknames, Michael “Air” Jordan, Wilt ” The Stilt” Chamberlain, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon just to mention a few. However, there are also some not so great NBA players with equally iconic nicknames. One such player that sits at the top of that list is Bryant “Big Country” Reeves.
Big Country looked more like a Junior “B” footballer from North Kerry than the starting centre for an NBA franchise. Born in the heart of the United States in Gans, Oklahoma with a population of just 400 people, Reeves looked like your traditional country boy; flat top haircut, little tash above his lip and a big barrel chest.
He was recruited to play for his hometown college Oklahoma State University where he became a force in the college game. OSU was also where he was given the nickname “Big Country” by one of his teammates after Reeves was left astounded by his first time flying on a plane.
Under the tutelage of coach Eddie Sutton, Reeves was able to keep his weight down, tone up and develop his game, leading the Cowboys to their first ever Final Four appearance. Unfortunately, they would lose to eventual winners UCLA.
After four years in OSU, new expansion team the Vancouver Grizzlies decided to take the seven-foot, 20 stone centre with the 6th pick in the 1995 NBA draft, becoming their first ever draft pick. While the Grizzlies weren’t expecting Hakeem Olajuwon they wanted a big man who could be a cornerstone for years to come.
The Vancouver Grizzlies (who moved to Memphis in 2001) played in the Western conference, where Big Country had to face off against legendary big men Charles “The Round Mound of Rebound” Barkley, David “The Admiral” Robinson, and Karl “The Mailman” Malone. During his first three seasons in the NBA Reeves wasn’t exactly in the upper echelon of primer big men, but showed he had the potential to put up decent numbers. In the 1997/98 season he outperformed defensive players of the year Dikembe Mutombo and Marcus Camby averaging 16.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.08 blocked shots per game.
The Grizzlies decided to bet the farm on Reeves and reward him with six-year deal worth over $60 million. As soon as Reeves put pen-to-paper his numbers started to drop. During one offseason Big Country returned to training camp over twenty two and a half stone. His weight problems eventually led to chronic back pains and he was forced to retire in 2001 at the age of 27, never getting the opportunity see out his contract or play in Memphis.
While Reeves’ contract was seen as one of the key reasons for the demise of basketball in Vancouver, fans around the league resonated with Big Country, it could have been because of his shy domineer or the fact the he struggled with his weight like so many other people. Or it’s more than likely because of the cult nickname.
Many people will back at the career of Bryant Reeves and laugh, but as Reeves sits on the porch of his 15,000 square foot home overlooking his 300 acre ranch counting his money, it’s fair to say Big Country is having the last laugh.
John Cronin, Pundit Arena.