Original Old School: The Real World

by May 20, 2011
Terrell Brandon

Today, former NBA All-Star Terrell Brandon turns 41 years old. Brandon spent the 90s and early 00s skillfully running the point for the Cavs, Bucks and TWolves, and to celebrate his born day, we’re kicking it back to SLAM 93 (December 2005), when we ran this Old School piece about the Portland native’s post-NBA lifestyle.—Ed.

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

Northeast Portland’s Irving Park is a good spot for playground hoops even on a dreary weekday. So today, with the Labor Day weekend sun shining bright, it’s something like heaven (word to Rick Telander). There are three full courts, a total of 12 hoops (all with nets), and more than 30 high-quality basketballs. There are also 400-plus kids running around, eagerly learning the game from hometown hero and former NBA All-Star Terrell Brandon, but the kids don’t stop the adults from getting their run on. Think about it, hoop heads: if you’ve got a ball in your hand, a netted rim in your sights and a host of eager rebounders, could any of you resist the urge to get some shots up?

Terrell Brandon can.

For the 15th straight year, the man locals know as TeeBee is hosting a free basketball clinic for kids. Brandon started this event—which also includes a barbeque and more free hoop gear than the kids know what to do with—the summer he was drafted out of the University of Oregon. For the first 11 years of the clinic, Brandon could behave like any of the other adults around; instruct the kids when it was time to be serious, then screw around and play some games with his pals while the kids were eating or otherwise distracted.

And then his career was over. “I haven’t played a game of basketball since I played in San Antonio in my last game,” Brandon says, referencing an otherwise forgettable TWolves-Spurs game at the Alamodome on February 4, 2002. “I can’t just play around, play in a little game. Basketball is like a drug, man. It stays in you. After I was hurt, I physically couldn’t play. Then, as I started to heal, it got back to where I was maybe two and a half steps slower than I used to be. I started playing tennis, doing yoga. But I can’t play basketball again. There’s no way I could play for fun. After all those years being competitive, playing as my job, I’d be out there like I was in the NBA, and nobody needs that. So I have to stay away. I stick to playing tennis and teaching kids to play.”

Understand: There is a tinge of sadness in Brandon’s voice, but this is no tragic tale. On the contrary, TeeBee might need basketball as little as any recent retiree in any sport. “I had businesses going way before I was injured, and people understood I had other interests. Today, people around here don’t even think of me as a player anymore,” Brandon says, later admitting that his fit, 35-year-old frame and perfectly braided cornrows do look NBA-caliber. “I also always had great support from my family.”

Along with his older sister, Tracy, Terrell was raised by his mom, Charlotte, and dad, Charles (“They used to call me ‘Jumpshot Charley’ back in Arkansas,” Pops says), just blocks from Irving Park. Charles, Charlotte and Tracy, along with Terrell’s longtime agent, Bill Duffy, are here today, helping things run smoothly and proudly watching Terrell interact with the neighborhood girls and boys, including his own 14-year- old son, Trevor. “This is the same park Terrell used to go to when he was 10 years old, with me tellin’ him, ‘Now when it gets dark, you come home,’” says Charlotte Brandon with a smile.

Before he could become a neighborhood star, Terrell had to overcome crooked legs that had him “wearing leg braces like Forrest Gump,” he says. “And you ask me why I was OK being hurt? I’d been hurt my whole life.” Occasionally hurt, and certainly short (5-11) for a baller, Terrell was nonetheless determined to test himself against older players. “I’d always play against older guys, so I knew I was one of the better players by the time I was in high school,” says Brandon, who attended nearby Grant HS. “I tried to dominate games, but I maintained the hard-working attitude, always practicing my jump shot, my dribble.” Brandon won two state titles at Grant and was a pretty big recruit, but he wasn’t that interested in being wooed. “I wanted to stay close to home,” he recalls. “Everyone always wanted to get out of Portland. I wanted to start a new legacy by playing at home.”

Within three years in Eugene, Brandon was scoring 27 ppg, winning the Pac-10 POY award in 1991. He declared for the Draft and was picked 11th by the Cavs, who already had Mark Price at the one. Welcome to the bench, Terrell. “Yeah, but Mark was hurt at the beginning of my rookie season,” Brandon explains. “So I started in training camp, preseason and the beginning of the regular season, and that allowed me to earn the respect of my teammates. I was playing with vets, bro—Brad Daugherty, Craig Ehlo, Larry Nance, Hot Rod Williams. What I learned from that team and from Lenny Wilkens is that my role had to change as a player. I wasn’t going to score 27 a game like I did in college. My job was to get everyone involved.”