Ray Allen, in his 18th year in the league and arguably the greatest three-point shooter of all time, backpedals to the three-point line and rises up for the biggest shot of his career. “BANG!” Mike Breen is yelling as it swishes through the net and the Heat go on to win the NBA Finals in Game 7. Ray Allen’s legacy describes itself, but he put it best after that shot, saying “I’m still defining my career.” It’s funny, because when Ray Allen’s career is over, the first thing we will remember is Game 6, not the 2900-plus three-pointers he made before that in his 18-plus years in the league. That shot did more than just bring another ring home to Miami.
Somewhere, Elton Brand was sitting on his couch, watching that game, wondering what was next for him then, as a 14-year NBA veteran. When I was talking with Elton Brand earlier this season, he mentioned that, “When Ray Allen hit that three last year [in the Finals], it really inspired me. Because if he misses that, who knows what happens with them?”
He continued, saying, “And that really stuck with me, because I know if I can go help a team win it, like I said the intangibles or whatever it takes. Get a rebound or a block, whatever it is, I do more of the dirty work now. If I can do that and help a team win or get over that hump, it’s like Elton Brand was a player that gave his all and gave what he had on that court and that’s how I want to be remembered.”
While we were all screaming with joy or hate when Ray Allen hit that shot, Elton Brand was sitting down and figuring out how he could define his career. After coming off a one-year contract with the Dallas Mavericks, Brand could have just chosen to hang it up after only playing 21.2 minutes per game. But, Brand knew his career wasn’t over. So, he decided to join the Atlanta Hawks to hopefully compete in the playoffs.
“I was with Grant Hill his last year in Phoenix and he dropped me off at the hotel after we smacked them by 30. He was like, “Man, I’m too old for this s***! You know he went to the Clippers and retired, I think he was 38 at the time, but I understand what he’s saying. When you get to the twilight of your career, you wanna be on a good team and play, compete and have fun.”
With the Hawks currently having the third seed in the Eastern Conference, Brand is competing and doing what he can to help the team. In his 15th year in the NBA, Brand just wants to play. As he explained to me, “If I went to a team and didn’t play one minute and got a ring, it wouldn’t feel the same for me. If I got three minutes and I got to dive on the floor for a loose ball, I would feel great about it.”
Elton Brand is the definition of a consummate professional. He’s a flash to the past, an old school bruiser who doesn’t want to stand out on the perimeter and shoot jumpers. He’s more interested in banging in the paint for an offensive board or diving for a loose rebound.
“To be honest with you,” he says, “if you were a big guys and shot threes, before Rasheed [Wallace] came, you were soft.”
Elton Brand was drafted with the first overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1999 NBA Draft, his most memorable moment in the NBA, after playing his college ball at Duke, averaging 16.2 PPG and 8.9 RPG, plus 1.9 BPG in two years at Duke.
In his 15th season, Brand has defied the odds set upon an undersized power forward in the NBA. He survived the times when the NBA was all about 7-0 post players and is still surviving in a league centered around guard play and ballhandlers. But how long will he continue to play in the NBA?
He’s just trying to compete and play the sport he loves, something we can all lose sight of. To this day, people are surprised Elton Brand is still playing basketball, but earlier this season against the Utah Jazz, Brand had five blocks. There’s still a lot of gas left in that motor and hopefully before his career is over, he’ll be raising the Larry O’Brien trophy. Even if he doesn’t, Brand’s career will still be a success.
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Dime: With Al Horford out for the remainder of the season, will that change your role on this team?
Elton Brand: It’s gonna change it eventually. I was just thinking about four or five days before he got hurt, after he had a huge double-double, like “wow, what a great luxury this is to have such good and young dynamic bigs to play with.” I can come in and bring some energy, just play hard and play some defense and we’re third place in the East, but then he went down. My role will change eventually. Whether it’s starting, I started the last three games, but we’re all going to have to pick up the slack with scoring, rebounding and from a leadership perspective. We lead by example, but he’s a leader too.
Dime: The Hawks are currently the third seed in the East. How confident is this team about being one of the best teams in the East (injuries and all)?
EB: That’s the thing, when we had Al and our full complement of guys we were confident. We took Miami to overtime in Miami, up seven with 90 seconds left. We felt like we could play with the really good teams. Now with Al [Horford] down, we’re still confident, but we have to find a way now. We have to evaluate more on the fly and have to figure it out.
Dime: You are reunited with Lou Williams in Atlanta, someone you played with in Philly and had success with. How has that been?
EB: It’s been good. Lou is coming off of his first injury, he’s a young guy, but he’s played many years in the league because he came out of high school. He’s getting back at it, scoring in bunches again and doing what he use to do on the court. It’s just good being able to talk to him about that and he’s asking questions and he will say, “Yeah you know how it is or how it was when you first get out there [after an injury] and you feel a certain way and you’re thinking now” and just talking through things. He’s a great asset for us to have, especially off the bench. When I play off the bench with him, I set some great picks and we will “get to that chicken,” which means score some points.