Original Old School: The Real World
Injuries ended his career early, but Terrell Brandon was prepared for life after basketball.
For the better part of four seasons, Brandon played behind Price, getting decent minutes and copping spot starts but never really showing what he was capable of. Before the ’95-96 season, the Cavs—then coached by Mike Fratello—traded Price and handed the keys to Brandon. “When I got that opportunity, the patience that I’d needed to sit on the bench showed in my game,” Brandon says. “I was steady, never erratic. Made my free throws, had that mid-range game. And I think I paid more attention to assist-to-turnover ratio then any player ever had. Coach Fratello taught me the value of every possession.”
Despite his new coach’s insistence on ground-out, low-scoring games, over the ’95- 96 and ’96-97 seasons, Brandon averaged 19.4 ppg and 6.4 apg while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 89 percent from the line, earning All-Star honors both seasons, as well as a Sports Illustrated cover that called him “The Best Point Guard in the NBA.”
The serious Brandon earned the nickname “Lone Ranger” while with the Cavs because of his propensity for sticking to himself on the road. While being in Portland meant chilling with family and friends, being in the L was a job. “This life is easy if you let it be,” Brandon told SI in his cover story. “I play the game, go home, wait for the next day. I don’t want any stress in my life.”
Cleveland loved TeeBee for his earnestness, but, seduced by the thought of Shawn Kemp reigning at the Gund, the Cavs dealt Terrell to Milwaukee in September of ’97, in a three-way trade with the Sonics. “I was surprised to get traded after two All- Star appearances, but when you have the chance to get Shawn Kemp, that’s a risk you have to take,” Brandon says. After a season-plus in Milwaukee, he was part of yet another three-team deal, this one shipping Starbury from Minnesota and landing Brandon there as his replacement in March of ’99.
Playing alongside the blossoming Kevin Garnett, Brandon further honed his assist- to-turnover ratio, and became more of an elder statesman. Some haters in Minny mistook his apparent calm for a lack of passion, but Brandon says there was an obvious reason some people questioned him. “I followed Steph,” he laughs. “He’s from the northeast, I’m from the West Coast. We’re laidback. I mean, I wanted to win as bad as KG did, and I was probably just as vocal, but I did my talking in the steam room, or when guys were getting taped. But on the court, I needed to lead my team. I was only 27, 28, but I had a big brother role on that team. And you know what? We still won, and my stats were still right there with all the best point guards.”
In fact, despite missing 16 of the first 48 games in ’01-02, Brandon’s 11th NBA season was looking like another impressive one when he got shut down for good with a fractured left femur. In addition to finishing just six points shy of 10K for his career, he was averaging 12.4 ppg and 8.3 apg, and had made 61 straight free throws. His assist-to-turnover ratio at the time of his injury was an absurd 6.14- to-1 (an NBA record for anyone with at least 250 assists). At that point, talk of retiring seemed premature. “I wasn’t believing that,” he says passionately. “I’m a professional athlete, bro—a 5-11 one at that. People my size don’t get this opportunity too often, so I wasn’t about to be finished. But I’d rehab it and then get hurt again, rehab it and get hurt again. I had problems in both of my knees, wear and tear. And doctors are human when they do surgeries, you know?”
For the rest of that season and much of the following campaign, the injured TeeBee still showed up at the Target Center for games. “But I hated it,” he says. “You try to watch and offer advice, but it’s not the same. I went from watching from the bench, to the tunnel, to upstairs. I’d be sweating my suit off, dog.”
Thankfully, Brandon still had his family, and he still had Northeast Portland, where he’d opened Terrell Brandon’s Barbershop and TeeBee’s Place, a retail clothing store, back in ’97. In March of ’04, with his expiring contract traded to the Hawks, Brandon stood with his parents and Duffy at his shop and tearfully announced his retirement. The transition to community leader and full-time businessman was complete.
“Now he’s 35, so it’s been 25 years with him and this park,” says Charlotte Brandon, who famously founded the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players organization and ran it for 10 years. “What makes me so proud is that he stayed in the community. And I’m still in the same house. Terrell did make it nice, added on and did some things I wanted, but it’s the same place. We call it the mansion in the hood.”
As the sun starts to go down, the kids line up for some one-on-one time with Terrell. While he’s staying in the hood and will surely see these kids around, the basketball phase of his life is over. There will be no more clinics like this. So, when each kid approaches, they get a hug and an autographed program, a full-color booklet that tells the story of Terrell’s life and thanks the community for its support. Terrell’s sister Tracy keeps him company as he says goodbye to every kid, a process that takes more than two hours. “I’m real proud of Terrell. He’s been doing this for 15 years,” she says. “A lot of guys in the NBA don’t even show up to their own camps. But not Terrell. He’s real.”