It’s impossible not to picture the regal bearing of Elton Brand every time he drops another gem of knowledge on us. Whether it’s about the game, or about life in general, there aren’t many people — let alone professional athletes — who can offer up such poignant moments from their lives. During our conversation with the power forward last month, before he embarked on his 16th season in the NBA, we got a first-hand account of a career that’s spanned decades. He’s seen and done most everything, and entering possibly his final season, the man teammates simply call “OG” is finally taking some time to appreciate how unique an opportunity this whole NBA thing has been. Just don’t embarrass him by asking about his time slinging rhymes.
It’s hard for younger basketball fans to remember, but Elton Brand was, and should be considered, a star. He came into the league as the No. 1 pick in the 1999 Draft, and was co-Rookie of the Year with Steve Francis, averaging 20 and 10 that rookie year. While Stevie isn’t looking so good these days, Brand is still honing his craft on the court, and he’s adapted to all the changes in the game since he came into a vastly different league more than 15 years ago.
“Yeah, you know plodding big men, banging all the time,” Brand says about the NBA he entered in the fall of 1999. “Super, super-star centers. Every team had a serviceable center at least, but these guys were superstars: [from] Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, to Shaq back then, [who] was unstoppable. The list goes on with so many amazing centers, like Rik Smits, Patrick Ewing — guys who were incredible. And I came in kind of right after that era.”
Before Elton played two years with Duke, and then joined the Chicago Bulls, though, he was AAU teammates with Ron Artest as a kid.
There’s a reason Brand’s teammates call him an OG — he really is an original gangsta. Elton actually turned Ron, now Metta World Peace, onto rap. Since then, Metta’s released a few albums under his Tru Warrior label, but in the beginning it was Brand who had to let the feisty kid from Queensbridge know about the music being made right in his own backyard!
“I’ve known Ron since Sony walkman, with the headphones and the fluffy stuff around him,” Brand tells us like he’s pretending to be an old man. “I’ve known Ron that long. Like his first girlfriend. We were probably 13 or 14, you know. I’ve known him forever.
“And he’d listen to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.” What?
When we tell Elton that Artest sounds like a fun, goofy kid, miles from the human time bomb he was during the earlier portions of his career, Brand says, “No,” Artest had the wild child in him even then:
“…[Artest] punched somebody in the face during an AAU game, he really pushed someone down the steps.”
Still, it’s obvious Elton was tight with the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. Brand thinks Metta is a lot smarter than he was at that age, or his teammates on the AAU circuit.