Imagine being a professional athlete poised to sign with a proud franchise, shake hands, pose with the jersey, tell the fans what you expect out of your new team as well as what you want for yourself and it just not turning out the way you thought it would. When Elton Brand came over from the Los Angeles Clippers in a deal that had Philly fans very much excited, everyone thought this might be the piece needed to complete the puzzle and push the Sixers franchise back to where it belongs…into the NBA elite.
It didn’t happen.
Brand separated his shoulder and still didn’t have his legs after playing less than ten games the previous year as a Clipper.
He sat the bench under Eddie Jordan because when Jordan decided to go small, Brand was seen as a liability. The team suffered and was decidedly worse than it was in 2009…when the Sixers gave the Orlando Magic all it could handle before losing in 6 games to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions. Jordan’s style never fit the roster and he was let go after the season ended. Doug Collins, the former TNT analyst, is now the head coach and is being introduced today (May 24th). Elton and I take it back to simply trying to get the ball on the rim as a youngster, through starring at Duke, what went into his decision to leave early and up to this very moment. It’s good to not have to speak with Elton after all the press is gone post game. I’m a flash from one locker room to the other and try to hit the players just as they straighten out their ties. He’s famous for saying to me “Here, you go” and we usually share a laugh. EB is one of the good dudes and is definitely a soul model for the NBA….
Michael Tillery: Enjoying your off season?
Elton Brand: I’m not enjoying it. I’d rather be playing right now. You know how it is Mike. You get a sick feeling as everyone else is having fun playing and celebrating
EB: He’s very well respected. He knows the game. I’ve followed his career as a coach and he’s won more games than the teams won the previous year his first season with a new team. He won 18 more games with one team and 10 more games with another team. So, he has a good track record in the first year with teams and I’m just excited to have him man. He knows the game and I’m looking forward to it.
MT: What are your thoughts on coaching changes in general. You being a veteran and having to react to a regime coming in.
EB: It’s tough. It’s tough…as a player I don’t want to put the onus solely on the coach. We’re out there. We’re out there playing so the coach can call the plays but whoever is out there has to step up so we can win ball games.
I never want to put the onus entirely on any coach.
That being said, making the change is definitely good for the team. Especially how we did last year. We didn’t perform well at all. So now we have a new voice…new concepts and hopefully that will take us to the next level.
MT: What’s your mindset going into the summer? There are a lot of expectations with you and obviously you are a talented player. Things didn’t go too well last year.
EB: My mindset is finding out what coach wants me to work on and what the system is going to be like. I want to jump right into that. With the team? I know we are a good team. We are much closer to that playoff team a few years ago than last year’s team. We had some good wins. We beat San Antonio. We beat Dallas. We beat Portland at Portland. We beat Boston at Boston. The list goes on. We have some quality wins against so called good teams…playoff teams. It was our full body of work that didn’t bode well for us at the end of the year. We just need to find a way to win close games and keep growing. We got the team. We have defense. We have scorers. We have young talent. We have veteran guys…
I think we’ll be fine. I know we’ll be fine.
MT: Did you watch the draft lottery?
EB: Nah, I didn’t watch it but once I heard we were in the top three, everyone was blowing my phone up. Sending me emails like we got the number one pick.
MT: Being a veteran and going into the draft…is it like any other job where new people come in and you have to mesh with their distinct personalities? What’s it like for a veteran this time of year?
EB: As a veteran, you don’t want a high draft pick (Elton laughs) because that means your season didn’t go to well. Once the season is over and you didn’t do well, you want to get that young talent and help him grow because it helps your team.
Regardless if he plays your position, you have to take him under your wing and help them grow because it’s for the betterment of the team. You can’t be selfish about it.
The top picks are usually one year players. They are 19 and 20 years old. It’s gonna take a lot of work and you gotta help them.
MT: What would you like to say to the Philadelphia fans about Elton Brand the basketball player? Is there a misconception they have? What would you want to tell them so the Sixers ball can get rolling again in this city?
EB: What I want to tell the fans is really that I love what they do. I appreciate their support every single night. Whatever they say, whatever they do, I love it because it pushes me to be a better player.
They haven’t seen me for a full season. I’ve played in the All Star game a few games.
Doug Collins was the analyst when I scored 40 in the playoffs (we laugh). He was right there court side. He knows what I can do.
I want the fans to know it’s still there.
I’m excited to give them some good times…some big emotional times…so they can have fun because they deserve to have fun.
I’m sick of Boston fans enjoying their team or L. A. fans still rooting for their team this time of year. Our fans deserve that because Philly is a basketball city. Of course there’s football, baseball and hockey but when you think of the top NBA basketball cities, Philly definitely understands and knows the game. It’s coming and I appreciate them being patient.
We won’t let them down. I won’t let them down.
EB: Again, I haven’t had the opportunity to show my game yet. There was the injury (shoulder and Achilles) to not starting, not playing in the fourth quarter from the second game on. Hopefully I’ll get a chance with the new coach to win ball games and show the city what type of ball player I am.
I can hit game winning shots. I can get what I want in the post. I have a mid-range game. There are a lot of facets to my game, I haven’t been able to show yet. It’s far from over. At the end of the day…at the end of this contract…hopefully I can end my career in Philly…they’ll say this guy…because it only takes one great season to turn it around and for people to say this guy really can play.
He’s the heart of the team.
That’s what I’m looking forward to. What they say is pushing us to get better but I already know deep down we are gonna turn this team around and make this a team they can be proud of.
MT: You are a veteran…as the years go by and when you have a season like last year, does it inspire you to want to go out there and do something over the course of the summer. How and why does your summer change after a bad team season?
EB: When you have a season like that, it’s embarrassing…especially as a veteran. We are pretty much a young team definitely, but I’m not a young player in this league. My team shouldn’t be where we are, so it’s embarrassing. We need to step our games up personally…do whatever you need to to do take over a game so that embarrassment doesn’t happen again.
That’s what I’m working on and that’s my mindset going into the season.
MT:You have a nice core and even your GM said the team is better than what the record shows. You have young parts in the back court. Jrue Holiday surprised a lot of people last year and I’m surprised he didn’t make the All Rookie Team.
EB: He came on late because he didn’t play a lot. There were times he didn’t get off the bench at all in a game early on so that’s probably the reason he didn’t make the Rookie Game. We had a shot at the number one pick and I’ve watched John Wall a lot…but I’ve watched Jrue a lot and I don’t think he can be much better than Jrue Holiday right now.
I’ll go on record with that.
MT: This is like the best possible scenario for the team because the front office would have had to make some difficult decisions they probably didn’t want to make had the team won the draft lottery. Getting the number two pick is actually like getting the number one pick considering you have a Jrue Holiday in place.
EB: Mike, I agree. No disrespect to John Wall but I can’t see him playing as well as Jrue Holiday did for us in his rookie season last year.
MT: Your health. Talk about being as healthy as you have been in years going into the season. I know the prospect of playing healthy puts a smile on your face. Speak on how frustrating it is not to be able to show the fans exactly the player you are from a health standpoint.
EB: Injuries are part of the game. I missed 4 or 5 games last year because the team sat me out for precautionary reasons. They didn’t want to push it and just wanted to make sure. I’m healthy enough to play all 82 games if need be.
I’m out there right now, building up…wrapping up and I want to get with our complete staff to get the complete plan.
All this just makes the story better.
I’ve been a part of this team sucks or this team can’t play…
Like that Clippers team. We took that Phoenix team to Game 7. That Phoenix team was really good. I know it can be done because I’ve done it before. There’s nothing in my mind that says it won’t happen again.
MT: You spoke on it earlier and I didn’t get a chance to ask you the last game but can you describe coming off the court for the last time this season knowing you weren’t making the playoffs? The disappointment. Was there almost a sense of relief?
EB: It was both. It was like really? This was a nightmare of a season for me personally considering the way it ended and not playing fourth quarters from the second game on…to not starting. Not that it’s all about starting but more about not being able to contribute minute wise. Especially with the team knowing that I can. When I did contribute, we played well. Definitely disappointing and disheartening.
I just wish we had 80 more games (we laugh) to balance this thing out! We have the talent.
MT: Down time. What do you like to do? What music do you listen to?
EB: I got a son. My first son. Just trying to spend as much time as I can with him. That’s the best feeling in the world…watching him grow. Even when he throws something at the window it makes me happy (we laugh). I’m not mad at him because he’s learning. Very exciting to see him grow.
Working out I listen to Motown. Trying to hype it up I listen to late 90′s Hip Hop. The Jay-Z and DMX times. I listen to Rock and Roll when I’m really trying to get pumped. I definitely like some of the Rock stuff too.
MT: How has the league changed since you were drafted?
EB: The league has changed a lot. When I first got into the league there were guys I emulated and looked up to. Guys like Charles Barkley, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, P. J. Brown…Shawn Kemp. Not the Reign Man…the cat that was on the ground but still had game. Alonzo Mourning, Karl Malone…all the power forwards.
It’s more about big, strong, on the block, rebounding, giving hard fouls and things like that. Now the game has changed up. You have guys like Rashard Lewis and Jeff Green playing the power forward spot now. That would never happen back then because they’d get beat down (we laugh) but that’s how the game has changed. I also have that job.
MT: What were your first thoughts of basketball?
EB: I remember shooting with an older brother. I’d be 1-40 and would be happy just trying to make a lay up. Just being young shooting at the rim and when one goes in I’m doing back flips. I was just excited while they were playing full court I’d be on the side tossing it up trying to be like the bigger kids.
MT: What players influenced you? You mentioned Barkley, Malone and Kemp. What era?
EB: Of course the Michael Jordan era. I was definitely a closet Michael Jordan fan growing because all my family were Knicks fans in New York.
I also liked Dominique Wilkins on the Atlanta Hawks because he was like the under dog. I wanted him to break out and win a championship. The guys I mentioned earlier, like Karl Malone, we used to emulate those guys and call their names out at the park. If you were big and strong you were Malone or we had a guy who could shoot a nice jumper and he was Bird (we laugh the reminiscent laugh).
MT: Coming out of high school, what went into the process of you ending up at Duke?
EB: I’ve always had challenges growing up. It’s nothing new to me.
That’s why I’m so confident it’s going to happen again because I work hard.
Once you put your mind to working hard, anything can happen.
I remember being in ninth grade and someone asking me about playing in the McDonald’s Game and I didn’t know what the McDonald’s Game was.
I wasn’t LeBron James, Stephon Marbury or Felipe Lopez…one of these guys that was highly touted from six grade on.
I went to a camp and I was ranked 200th, so I always had to outwork my opponent to get better.
The NBA wasn’t guaranteed to me so I felt as though Duke, with the academics that they have, would enable me to get a great job at Morgan Stanley or something like that so I could help my Mother out and get her a nice house. That was my goal. I might not make it to the NBA but I’ll have a great education, get up at 5:30 am and go to work somewhere and get a nice salary.
So I figured Duke with basketball and academia, I’ll be good there.
MT: The National Final vs. UConn…
EB: Yeah, we lost to them by three.
MT: Rip Hamilton’s squad.
EB: Rip Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin. We lost one game that season by two point to Cincinnati in the Alaska Shootout. In the National Final, Rip and Khalid had good games. We fought hard but came up a little short. Ricky Moore had like 12 in the first half after averaging like 5 for the year.
MT: Mike Krzyzewski. The coach and the person.
EB: Coach K is all about family. Family and being together. He’s tough as nails you know. He was also all about respect and being under his tutelage for those two years really helped me out. He’s a man’s man. It was tough with his Army background but he pushed us and definitely pushed me as a player. He pushed my teammates and I to be our best on and off the floor.
MT: Leaving Duke early when it wasn’t a normal occurrence. What went into making that decision?
EB: It was a tough decision. Coach K was right there along with my decision. He knew my background financially and things like that. During the season he said “Hey, we’re gonna do this thing right.” He told me I was gonna be on the cover of magazines and player of the year…which I was. The same with the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award and all that. He said I was going to be a top three pick. He said it’s OK, I understand your situation.
College is pure. I left a lot of fun there. It was more a business decision. Now my son or daughter (not yet) won’t have to make the same decisions I made.
MT: You also spoke of Morgan Stanley earlier. Have you thought of what you may do after the NBA?
EB: Yeah, a little bit. I interned at Morgan Stanley. I got a feel of the business world years ago. Besides that, I’m not sure but it’s gotta be something besides golf like some of the other guys are into (we laugh).
MT: Is it difficult for you to maintain that competitive edge when not playing?
EB: Oh yeah. It’s tough. It’s tough. It’s in everything you do…like an iPhone app with your wife you are trying to win. Everything you do you are trying to win.
A lot of guys get caught up with the gambling and other things because we’re competitors. We’re competitors 8 months out of the year every single day. It’s hard to turn off. It’s definitely difficult getting that adrenaline rush sitting around the house.
MT: Allen Iverson coming back to the team. It was a great time for the city. It was a great time for us in the media. I never thought he or his heart left here. What did that period teach you because he was here in a flash and then gone? Did you learn anything about Allen Iverson?
EB: I learned about the business of the game of course. I learned how much of a great person he is.
He gave this team a big shot in the arm.
I really got a chance to know him as a person. I met him at All Star Games and on Olympic teams and things like that but this is the first time I got to really spend time with him. I really appreciate what he did in coming back. He didn’t have to come back to our team but he gave it a try and I really respect that.
I respect him and wish him well.
What I learned the most about is the business of the game. It truly is a business first and foremost.
MT: Who is Elton Brand the player and the person?
EB: The person is a family guy. I don’t do much anymore. I’m not in the streets. I love my son and my wife. I’m low key. I’m just an all around respectful person.
On the court, I’m trying to win…whatever it takes.
I’m not proud about it, but I definitely have to be top ten with flagrant fouls but sometimes you gotta do things like that (we laugh).
I’m trying to win this ball game Mike. You gotta be tough down there on the post and angry in the paint. Like I said earlier, you have to outwork any situation you’re in.