If Reggie Jackson could remember the first words he spoke, he probably wouldn't understand them.
They were in Italian.
“I wish I still knew (the language),” the Thunder guard says today.
But you can forgive him for not remembering. Northeast Italy was where he was born — Pordenone, to be exact — and it's where he maintained dual citizenship until his 18th birthday.
But that only accounted for a small portion of his rare upbringing. Thanks to his father's military background, Reggie was an accomplished globe-trotter before the sixth grade.
It started in Pordenone, living off-base and learning the culture from his Italian nanny. But the vivid memories don't kick in until England.
That's where Reggie's family moved around his third birthday. And that's where his love of sports first sprouted.
“It was fun,” he recalls. “I just remember following my brothers around, going to nearby parks, playing soccer a lot.”
That was the theme in those early days. No matter where they were, and they were a lot of places, sports served as the common thread.
Reggie's two brothers — Travis and Trez — are eight and 10 years older. But once Reggie could walk, he could play.
“He may not have been as big as us,” Travis said. “But in his mind, I think he thought he was.”
That confidence served him well at the family's next stop. Because in North Dakota, where they stayed about a year, the sport of choice was a bit more physical than soccer.
“Man, that was when I started getting into roller hockey, watching ‘Mighty Ducks,'” Reggie said. “I remember snow being on the ground, a foot tall in the backyard.”
“Yeah, ‘Mighty Ducks' was hot,” Travis agreed. “We had pucks, sticks, the whole thing. But we messed up the garage a lot because we didn't have no other goals.”
After that, Reggie moved to Georgia, his fourth home before his seventh birthday. And basketball really started to pique his interest.
The family lived about 10 minutes from the military base in Valdosta, a South Georgia town with a population around 50,000.
And nearly every day, the brothers would make their way to the on-base youth center to play basketball. Reggie was 7, his brothers were 15 and 17. But the rules were uniform, no matter your age.
“No blood, no foul,” Reggie said. “Even if there was blood, probably no foul.”
Those early games, he says, bred a rare ability to maneuver around the paint. As one of the NBA's breakout performers this season, Reggie's biggest offensive asset has been a great touch near the rim and natural feel for when to drop the silky floater.
“I guess you can give us a little credit for that,” Travis joked. “He has a lot of war wounds and scars from playing that backyard basketball with us.”
It's why you'll rarely, if ever, see Reggie complain to a ref.
“Being the youngest, they weren't easy on me,” Reggie said. “It just helped me be tough-minded, move on, play through physicality and not really worry what's going on.”
When Reggie was 10, though, his brothers were off to college and his parents split. He lived with his mother for a year in Florida before moving in with his father in Colorado Springs. It was his sixth stop in 11 years, but it would be his final one until college.
Living alone with his father, who still worked diligently in the military and was back on the dating scene, Reggie said he didn't want to feel like a burden.
“I didn't want to bother anybody,” he said. “Don't know why I had thoughts like that as a kid. But that's just how I figured.”
So to pass the time, he put all his effort and energy into academics and athletics.
Reggie was naturally gifted, thanks to his father. Saul Jackson, Reggie claims, can still dunk at the age of 52: “He always says now, it's not the getting up there, it's the landing.”
“He was supposed to be an Olympic sprinter, but he had my brother,” Reggie said. “He's a freak athlete … I raced him when I was 17 and he beat me by about 20 yards.”
So the ability was there. But it was the work ethic that separated Reggie. In those Colorado Springs days, he would wake up at 5 a.m., hit a workout in the gym, get hundreds of shots up and then be off to school and practice.
He even did it during football season while serving as the starting quarterback at Palmer High School.
“He could throw it 60 yards on a rope,” Travis said, noting that before Reggie quit to focus on basketball his senior year, he was getting interest from Kansas, among others.
“Like I said, I never wanted to be a burden,” Reggie said. “I just wanted to take whatever God gave me and figure a way out.”
And the plan worked, with Reggie becoming the top high school hoopster in Colorado — averaging 29.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists his senior year — and earning a full ride to Boston College.
From there, he parlayed his talent into a first-round selection in the 2011 NBA Draft.
And now, in his third year, Jackson is thriving as the Thunder's sixth man.
Some of that, according to Jackson, is because of his globe-trotting youth, which he says “matured me” at an extremely fast rate.
“It gives you more versatility and an ability to adapt,” Travis said. “I think that's why he kind of plays well no matter what team he's on.”
In his 23 years, Reggie Jackson has had eight homes in eight completely different areas. And he wouldn't have it any other way.
But for the foreseeable future, Thunder fans hope he's found a concrete landing spot.