Redefining a Brand
Still a good player, Elton Brand is now an even better leader.
It’s a shade before 6 p.m. on gameday at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. Tip-off’s scheduled for 8 p.m., so it’s not surprising that the media room is mostly idle, devoid of keyboard clatter and basketball chatter.
It’s pretty quiet out on the court, too. Most 76ers are just arriving, getting dressed or visiting the trainer. A few guys are working with a roundball, though. Three of the youngest Sixers are, alternatively, getting shots up and listening to assistant coach Aaron McKie’s instructions. While McKie and the kids—Jrue Joliday, Jodie Meeks and Evan Turner—work in tandem, one other player is already sweating heavily. Not a rookie, nor a sophomore nor a five-year vet, 12th-year pro Elton Brand is halfway through his extensive pre-game regimen.
After a sub-par start to the Philadelphia chapter of his career—following the signing of a five-year deal worth $82 million in the summer of ’08, Brand only played 29 games in ’09 and struggled in a career worst season under Coach Eddie Jordan’s last year—Elton Brand’s tangible production has improved exponentially this season. Through 20 games, Brand was leading the Sixers in points (15.7 ppg), rebounds (7.9 rpg), blocks (1.2 bpg) and was second in steals (1.5 spg) and PER (19.6). But almost as importantly for a Philadelphia team with eight players younger than 23, and this is metrically immeasurable, Brand’s leadership positively impacts his impressionable teammates.
“I think Elton sets the right example with his work ethic,” says Evan Turner moments after finishing his own pre-game routine prior to a game against the Boston Celtics. “He’s always the first one on the floor. He always prepares in the exact same way. He battles. Every time he takes the floor, he battles. He’s a great leader.”
Brand may have more statistically off nights than he did in his prime—though there are far fewer of those evenings than there were last season—but even on the occasions when his line may not read well in the box score, EB tries to assist the team in other ways.
“I try to set the right example,” says Brand, minutes after depositing 13 points, grabbing 14 rebounds (8 offensive) and swatting 3 shots in his stat account in a last-second loss to the Celtics. “I try to make a difference with my leadership. I play hard every night. I shoot extra shots. I talk to the guys. That’s what I do.”
Brand remembers being a young player on a young team lacking leadership in Los Angeles. So he knows firsthand how important it is for the rookies, sophomores and even third-year players to have a veteran to look up to.
“They don’t know any better,” says Brand, referring to some of his fresher teammates. “They see me here early, so they think they’re supposed to come early. It’s good.”
Jrue Holiday, 20, may only be in his second season, but already realizes that it’s a rare thing for a veteran like Brand to arrive so early for games. That’s part of the reason why Holiday’s so comfortable seeking out his older peer for career and life advice.
“He has a lot of experience,” says Holiday, “and he knows a lot of things about basketball, a lot of things off the court about finances and keeping your money and all that. Pretty much you can go and talk to him about anything.”
At random intervals during the nationally televised tilt against the Celtics, Elton could be seen offering Jrue pointers on how to best play the pick and roll, and about a slew of Rajon Rondo-related topics.
Some players lead by actions. Some players lead by words. Elton Brand leads the streaking 76ers, winners of four of their last six, by a mixture of the two.
Says Turner: “I give Elton Brand a lot of respect because he practices all of what he preaches.”
: Last season in December, Elton Brand had a game-winning tip-in against the Celtics with a few seconds left. Tonight he had an offensive rebound with 11 seconds left and turned it into what initially appeared to be a put-back and one. Unfortunately for the Sixers, the refs called the foul on the floor, negating the potential game-winner. Brand had this to say about that play after the game: “Yeah, it felt like the same play as last season. You know, it was over Paul Pierce. I had that tip-in kind of thing. But they didn’t call an and one. I was too late. It wasn’t fast enough. But it was a similar play.”
: Before the game, Shaq O’Neal spoke about how he only allows his son to watch a select few NBA players. Namely, only Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin. The first two make sense and don’t need explanation. The third (Griffin)? O’Neal said that the Clippers is 6-10 and light-skinned, like “my son’s going to be.”
: Also before the game, unprompted, Doc Rivers took a moment out of his press conference to praise and eulogize the recently departed Phil Jasner. A long-time columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, Jasner was one of the writers I corresponded with and looked up to when I was younger. He will be dearly missed—by his peers and by his many, many readers.