Still posting points
It doesn't seem that long ago that Terrell Brandon was one of the NBA's premier backcourt players, a two-time All-Star whom Sports Illustrated once called "the best point guard in the game."
But the Grant High grad, his pro career shortened by three knee surgeries, last played during the 2001-02 season. Next May, he turns 50.
"I can't believe it, until I look in the mirror and see all these gray hairs," Brandon said with a grin. "Then I say, 'OK. I'm getting up there.' Time has gone by extremely fast."
Brandon is holding up well, though. He carries 180 pounds tightly compacted on his 5-11 frame, right at his playing weight when he retired at age 31 after 11 seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I eat well. I walk a lot. I still get my rest," Brandon said. "Those are the three things I concentrate on. As a player, I always wanted to eat right and make sure my digestive system was intact. And I wanted to make sure conditioning never came up in my career.
"Now that I'm retired, I want to look like I can still play, even though I know I can't."
Brandon returned to live full-time in Portland after he retired as a player, but in reality, he never left. During his playing days, he bought a house close to the home in which he and older sister Tracy grew up in with parents Charles and Charlotte Brandon.
"I couldn't imagine living anywhere else," Brandon said. "I appreciate Cleveland, Milwaukee and Minneapolis — but they're cold places in the winter time, trust me.
"After every season, I came straight to Portland. This was my vacation place. Going somewhere else wasn't even something I thought about. We have all the seasons, we have the greatest people in the world, you can still drink out of a water faucet. ... There's nothing like Portland."
In 1994, Brandon bought a barber shop on Northeast Alberta Street and opened Tee Bee Enterprises, businesses he still runs out of the same building. There is a limousine service — "yes, I drive," Brandon said — and a Multitude of Mercies learning center next to the barber shop.
On a recent school day, teacher Tamara Hopkins asks the 25 students — ages kindergarten through fifth grade — to greet a visitor, and they all do, politely and in unison.
Brandon knows all of the kids, except the kindergartners, with whom he exchanges handshakes and hugs. He's a role model to the group, and he takes it seriously.
"I recognize most of them — they can't fool me," he said with a laugh. "It's beautiful to see young people mature and grow. These kids are smart, they're talented, and they listen. They're our present and our future."
If Brandon is making money at the barber shop, it's not a lot. He established it, he said, "to give something back to the community, like my parents did."
Brandon learned respect and love for the community from his parents. Charles Brandon has been assistant pastor at the Walker Temple Church of God in Christ for more 40 years. Charlotte, who died last year, was founder and first president of the Mothers of Professional Basketball Players.
"Charlotte has been an extraordinary leader and an inspirational force to the organization and to the NBA," former Commissioner David Stern told me in 2003. "There's no member of the NBA family that has contributed any more than the moms' association, and, in particular, Charlotte. She and her husband have a remarkable set of values, and she understands the much broader picture of life, not just the basketball part."
Brandon's parents set the rules by which Terrell and his sister have lived their lives.
"From zero to now, they've been the rock of our family, teaching us how to live in society," he said. "Don't worry about color, creed or whatever. Handle yourself with class. Be dedicated to the school books.
"Athletically, commit to it all the way. If you're going to have a business, commit to it all the way. I appreciate the advice they've given me. Of course, I miss my mom, but every day, she's in my heart."
Such parental guidance laid the groundwork for perhaps the top achievement of Brandon's NBA career — the NBA's Sportsmanship Award in 1997, reaped by such greats as David Robinson, Grant Hill and Stephen Curry through the years. Brandon chokes up at the mention of his good fortune to achieve such a meaningful honor.
Religion has always remained a part of Brandon's life.
Said Brandon: "My parents always told my sister and I, 'You're going to go to church, you're going to go to work, you're going to go to school.' Our faith has kept us going through challenging times."
The Brandons' neighborhood wasn't what one would call wholesome.
"It was real tough, the drugs and crime that were around, the way houses looked," Brandon said. "Everything except the church and the people around you who really care about you.
"You're either going to the right or the left. Luckily, I had a dad and mom who stayed on my behind. I didn't fall victim to the temptations I could have. There were some things I said no to."
One of them wasn't basketball. Brandon played Little League baseball — his bat boy one season was Damon Stoudamire, three years his junior — but basketball was his game. When Terrell was in middle school, he began playing pick-up games at Irving Park. Grant High coach John Stilwell — nicknamed "the White Shadow" after a popular TV series of the era — was an interested observer.
"He wasn't necessarily watching me, at least at first," Brandon said. "He was watching the neighborhood. But then he heard Tracy went to Grant. That's when he started to recruit me a little bit."
As a sophomore at Grant, Brandon was the seventh man on a state championship team led by guards Tony Ross and Joe McFerrin and center Mark West. Brandon was the star as a junior and senior on teams that reached the state finals in 1987 and won the title again in 1988.
Said Brandon: "When I made the varsity as a sophomore, (Stilwell) said, 'I want you to play like you do at the park. I'm going to keep everything organized, but play the same way.' He never tried to change me, to slow me down. It was, 'go north and south, not east and west.' I owe everything to the 'White Shadow.'"
Brandon was a decent shooter — he would improve on that skill later — but a terrific jumper who could easily dunk a ball despite being on the wrong side of 6 feet tall. As a senior, he broke an ankle early in the season but returned earlier than doctors advised to help the Generals win the state crown. That spring, on an ankle that was still not 100 percent, he won the state triple-jump title with a leap of 47 feet, 2 1/4 inches.
Then it was to Oregon, the school he had closely followed as youth. But Brandon didn't have a satisfactory grade-point average or SAT scores, so he missed his freshman year as a Proposition 48 casualty. During that first year in Eugene, he gained his eligibility and never had academic difficulties again.
"That year challenged me and taught me a lot," Brandon said. "I had to prove something to my university and myself, that I wasn't a dummy."
On the court, Brandon blossomed as a junior, averaging 26.6 points and earning Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. After the season, UO coach Don Monson got Brandon on the phone with Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting.
"He had me projected as a late first-round or second-round (draft) pick," Brandon recalled. "I said, 'Mr. Blake, no offense, but are you telling me there are 30 to 40 players in the nation better than me?' The phone got quiet. I said, 'Take care of yourself, Mr. Blake. Have a good day.'
"He and Coach Monson were friends. They were trying to get me to commit to playing my senior year."
Brandon was taken by Cleveland with the 11th pick of the 1991 draft. He apprenticed under All-Star point guard Mark Price for three seasons, then became a starter for an excellent team, flanked by such teammates as Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty. The Cavaliers made the playoffs during four of his seasons but couldn't past Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls or Patrick Ewing's New York Knicks.
In 1997, Brandon was traded to Milwaukee and spent a season and a half there before being sent to Minnesota, with whom he finished a career in which he fulfilled many of his dreams.
"Playing against Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas. ... I grew up with their posters on my wall," Brandon said. "I hoped maybe to be close to where they're at one day. To play against your heroes ... never in a million years did I think I'd play against Clyde Drexler. For me to establish myself enough that he would say hello to me — people don't understand what type of joy that is."
Brandon played in the 1996 and '97 All-Star games, with and against Hall of Famers such as Jordan, Ewing, Drexler, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon, Gary Payton, David Robinson, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Reggie Miller.
"Best teams I've been on in my life," Brandon said. "To make it back-to-back? I grew from 5-11 to 6-5. It made me appreciate the game more. You go from 'rook' to 'young fella' to 'Terrell' to 'TeeBee.' Once you've become 'TeeBee,' you've arrived."
During his time in Cleveland, Brandon staged a series of one-day youth camps. One year, he welcomed an attendee who was later to achieve some notoriety — LeBron James.
"He was big already," Brandon said. "He was better than all the guys his age. In four hours, I moved him from playing with seventh graders to playing with seniors — that's how dominant he was.
"He was getting triple-doubles in the seventh grade. At the camp, he was getting teammates involved, he was vocal, and his basketball career was outstanding already."
Where does Brandon rate James in terms of greatness in NBA history?
"Either he's on Mount Rushmore, or he's close to it," Brandon said. "He's incredible. I couldn't imagine playing 17, 18 years at that level.
"What I like about LeBron is, any criticism that comes his way is basketball-related. You never hear of incidents happening off the court. You don't hear a peep about him. When you see social media, what is he doing? Working out, or with his family, or with his school in Akron. I'm very proud of him for being the man he is."
Brandon played with the likes of Price, Nance, Daugherty, Ray Allen, Glenn Robinson and Chauncey Billups, but considers Garnett the best player he played with.
"By far," Brandon said. "Kevin had the total package. He had the attitude, the disposition, the ball-handling skills, the jump shot and the low-post game. I loved playing with him. He came to work every day."
The teammate he most enjoyed playing with, though, was Allen with the Bucks.
"We didn't play very long together, but we had so much fun," Brandon said. "I nicknamed him 'Sugar Ray' because he looked like Ray Leonard.
"The first time I gave him the ball at the 3-point line, he said, 'Terrell, give it to me a little earlier.' Next time, I got it to him earlier, he hit the jump shot, and said, 'Get it to me earlier.' Next time, he had just crossed halfcourt and I passed it to him. He put up this long 3, made it and said, 'That's what I'm talking about.' His range was unlimited."
Brandon played for Mike Fratello, George Karl, Chris Ford and Flip Saunders, but considers the first coach in Cleveland — Lenny Wilkens — his favorite.
"All of them gave me something different," Brandon said. "But Coach Wilkens — it's like you never forget your first kiss. He and the godfather, (former Cleveland GM) Wayne Embry, gave me my first opportunity. I became an All-Star under Coach Fratello, but I became a professional under Coach Wilkens."
Brandon has a happy life these days. He's single, but has three children — Trevor, 28; Terrell Jr., 10, and Ava, 8. Trevor works at Self-Enhancement Inc., as does Terrell's sister, now Tracy Crittenden.
Terrell shares custody of the younger two with their mother.
"See them every day," he said. "They mean everything to me. I don't put any pressure on them as far as playing sports, but I do put pressure on them to be good people. And their grades have to be up to par."
Brandon has become a fan of the Trail Blazers. Though he said he attends an average of only two or three games a year, he follows his hometown team closely and enjoys watching Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
"Lillard is my favorite player in the NBA, and CJ is coming," Brandon said. "The quality of their play is great. I hope they stay around for a long time. There aren't many backcourts that can compete with them. Their basketball IQ is extremely high."
Brandon doesn't miss the grind of the NBA's regular season.
"I miss the playoffs," he said. "I don't miss the practices. I don't miss the travel.
"But once April comes, my hands start sweating. I know what the players today feel. The day before the playoffs start, you can't sleep. You're tired the first game of the playoffs because you were up all night rehearsing what you were going to do. That's when it hits me a little bit."
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