Healthy and happy, Elton Brand talks hoops, kicks and life after the NBA.
On a Friday two years ago, Elton Brand ruptured his achilles tendon, effectively ending his career as an L.A. Clipper. That summer, the summer of ’08, as a Free Agent, Brand nearly signed with a few teams, namely the Warriors, Clippers and Sixers. Eventually, after some confusion, Elton Brand ended up inking a lucrative deal with Philadelphia’s franchise. The summer wasn’t done, though, as Converse unveiled the EB1, Elton’s first signature shoe with them. Unfortunately, the contract and the shoe were the high points of EB’s year.
On a Friday seven months ago, the Sixers and Elton Brand announced that he was having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. The $80-million dollar man’s season was over after less than 30 games. Fans were livid. Aside from only playing in 27 games, Elton never looked like the 10-year-vet who is just one of four current players to average a career double-double. People in Philly were questioning his signing. Loudly.
This past friday, with fans in PA willing to give EB another chance (do they really have a choice?), I caught up with a happy and healthy Elton Brand at the Sixers’ practice facility on City Line Ave. Looking fit (as one local paper wrote, looking “like a prizefighter”), EB was in the greatest of moods. As he sat to talk to me, it clicked: In the last year, Elton’s come full-circle—from healthy with a signature shoe, to hurt and on the DL, to healthy again with a new, Converse signature shoe (the EB2) set to debut in less than a month’s time. Here’s hoping that things work out better this time around for EB42.
SLAM: What have you been up to this summer?
Elton Brand: I’ve just been training hard, and been back and forth between Cali and Philly. [I spent] a lot of time in Cali.
SLAM: You spend any time at home in New York?
EB: Yeah, I was in and out. We did a few events, and I always do Elton Brand day in Westchester every year, so I went up there for that.
SLAM: When you were in L.A., were you just working out or were you also doing some film work?
EB: Both. A little film stuff. We got some stuff in pre-production and stuff that we’re looking at, but really I was talking about the games. We had like 16 pros at this gym in Hawthorne. Paul Pierce grew up in Inglewood, it’s right outside of Inglewood. Paul Pierce, Danny Granger, Corey Maggette, Shaun Livingston, me, Okafor. It was good runs.
SLAM: Were you also still rehabbing?
EB: This was after rehab, so I was good.
SLAM: How long have you been able to run full for?
EB: About two months.
SLAM: What was the shoulder rehab like? What kind of things did they have you doing?
EB: The shoulder rehab was, it’s just tedious motions, stretching, lifting, light weights. You know, you see me, I’m a big guy—I’m 260—I got like a five pound weight in my hand doing things over and over again, every day, every morning. Stretching. Icing.
SLAM: After the injury, how long did you not touch a ball for?
EB: I was out, for touching a ball, once I got the surgery, for about a month and a half straight.
SLAM: You missed almost two straight years due to injuries. Which one was harder to come back from, rehab wise?
EB: Rehabbing, I think the calf, you know what I mean, the Achilles, the calf strength and all that. That was the hardest cause you lose the muscle. You lose all the strength not just in your calf but in your quad and all that. It’s like that muscle atrophy really sets you back because you need your explosion off that one leg. So, now to have that back, it feels good.
SLAM: Which injury was harder on you mentally? The one in L.A. or in Philly?
EB: The Philly one. Because it’s coming to a new team, you wanna win, and it’s exciting. And it’s like, OK, you see the playoffs and the defending champs and they’re not full strength. And your team is up 2-1 against the favorites. It’s like, man, just let me get out there. Let me get out there and do something to help ‘em.
SLAM: I read that the leg you injured two years ago wasn’t 100 percent last year even when you were playing. What about this year?
EB: It’s one-hundred. Upper body, lower body. I’ve learned a lot. I’m not as young as I was, so you learn—you learn how to be flexible, because that’s how you get hurt. Doing yoga, doing every little thing I can to stay ahead.
SLAM: What are you looking for out of yourself this season on an individual level?
EB: Individually, just looking at, of course, winning ball games. But just getting to that point where it’s an absolute threat, an absolute beast on that court, so they know like, OK, we gotta get it outta this guy’s hands cause he’s gonna score buckets, or he’s gonna a block shot or he’s gonna get that rebound. Just make a huge difference to the win loss column on the team.
SLAM: On a team level, what are you looking for this year—realistically?
EB: Realistically, just do better than we did last year. First round two years in a row. So we get to the playoffs, but we need to get past that. That’s what I was brought in for, that’s my piece, so that’s what I need to do.
SLAM: No disrespect to the Clippers and L.A., but in Philly the fans are very serious. You feel like that puts a little more pressure on you as a player?
EB: Yeah. I love it though. That’s why I wanted to come here. No disrespect intended, cause I loved my time with the Clippers and that organization was great to me, and we had a great playoff run, got our own TV show, there were some great deals there. But these fans are really serious, and this city is serious about their sports. As an athlete, that kind of propels you to want to be better and wanna do better for them.
SLAM: You’ve played in Chicago, LA, Philly. What’s the difference between the cities? Does it make a difference on the court?
EB: Yeah, there’s a difference. You get to Chicago, they had the recent tradition, winning those championships three years before I got there. So there were still on the high of winning all those championships. I get to the Clippers, and our team went the farthest any team has ever went. And then I get to the Sixers and it’s kind of the older tradition. Iverson and those guys had a great run to the finals, but before that it’s [been since] ’83. We wanna get back to that level.
SLAM: What differentiates one coach from another?
EB: I think what differentiates the coaches is their motivational style, and then their X’s and O’s. You got coaches that are great X and O coaches, but they can’t have the players’ attention. The players don’t really wanna go out there and give 110 percent for these guys. But then you got guys the other way. Great motivators, but the plays are not working, or the defensive systems are working well. I think with Eddie Jordan, we have both. The X and O—the Princeton offense, he’s set up some great defensive schemes for us that seem to be working well in pick up ball. So I’m looking forward to it.
SLAM: Last year a lot of people questioned how EB would fit into Mo Cheeks’ uptempo offense. I guess it’s kind of the same question this year, cause Eddie Jordan also likes to run. So what’s your answer to that?
EB: You know, I just have to fit in and play. I can definitely play up tempo. But it’s like, I haven’t seen a team win a chip that has just been running. You have to have some sets. The Lakers recently, they had the triangle. In Boston, the Big Three, they knew what positions they were in. When it gets to that playoff level, everyone’s getting back. You’re not getting too many layups. During the season, there might be slippage, so, you know.
SLAM: Do you think you’ll have to adjust your game at all, both because of injuries and because you’ll be playing in a different system?
EB: Yeah, I gotta adjust the game, and I’ve been working on that this summer. More on the wing, more facilitating the offense, passing the ball more which I can do, too. It’s fun, though, playing in this style. Everybody touches the ball. It’s not like, I’m on the block, OK, you’re double-teamed, now pass it. No, it’s like, you’re moving, you’re cutting, you’re spacing. So it’s fun playing this style, so we just have to make it work.
SLAM: Have you been in touch with any of the team’s new additions?
EB: Yeah, Jason Kapono has been here shooting everyday. And he can really shoot. Jrue [Holiday] was out here two weeks ago. He’s gonna be a special player. 19 years old, he’s 6-4, loves to play defense, he can do a lot of things with the ball. So, he’s gonna be really good. Rodney Carney. He’s just an extreme athlete. I’m not talking about basketball, I’m talking about track and field athlete. He can do long jump; his hops is incredible. I’m excited.
SLAM: In terms of going forward next season, how much do you think you’re gonna miss Andre Miller?
EB: We’re gonna miss Dre in a certain way, because he played great for us last season. He’s won ball games by himself. But I think being in Eddie Jordan’s system bodes well for Lou Williams. Slashing, cutting, spacing, shooting. He doesn’t have to be the point guard breaking people down, dropping it off or posting people up like Andre Miller was. So I think we’re gonna miss him, of course, because he was a leader and he’s a great player, but this system is gonna enhance Lou’s skills.
SLAM: On October 15th, your new shoe, the EB2, will be available at JCPenney’s nationwide for $65; it’s your second signature shoe with Converse (the EB1 was released last season). How exciting of a feeling is it to have your own shoe?
EB: It’s an honor—especially to be with Converse. They got the Star Chevron Logo back. It bodes well to the tradition. Growing up, guys had ‘em. Of course, Dr. J and Larry Bird and they wore Converse. So, absolutely, it’s an honor.
SLAM: Is that what attracted you to Converse?
EB: That’s exactly what attracted me to Converse. Their tradition. It’s about that heritage and getting it done. It’s a 100 year-old company.
SLAM: At this point in your career, you’re one of the older cats on the team: do you see yourself as one of the leaders?
EB: Absolutely. They look to me for leadership; they ask questions. It’s crazy, I got called an OG a few times! It’s like, man, I guess I am an OG now [that I’m in my] 30’s.
SLAM: You got four more years on the contract. What do you hope to accomplish in those four years?
EB: I hope to bring one [Title] to the city, at least. That’s the goal. That trumps everything. [If] you do that, it’s like, you sit back and, hey, we’re part of that tradition. Every time, before the games, they go through highlights of ’83, when the Championship was won, you look up and see the banners. That’s a special feeling and that’s what you’re playing for.
SLAM: It’s a few years away, but are you trying to play as long as you’re physically holding up, as long as you’re able to?
EB: That’s the goal. I’m gonna be playing somewhere regardless, even on the weekends, cause I love the game. But that’s the goal. Just to compete and play at a high level. Like you said, it’s a few years away, but definitely. The travel is tough. The schedule is tough. The grind is tough. But you grow up reading SLAM Magazine seeing where your ranking is. Then you get in the magazine, you’re knocking off names. That’s how I still feel. I still get SLAM now. You know what I mean? I want my article. I want my cover again.