Clipper Hip Mixing street tastes off the court with a button-down approach on it, Elton Brand is infusing Los Angeles's other team with a new identity

January 07, 2002

Mom has the four-bedroom house in Marina Del Rey, Calif., with
the view, the gated entrance, the patio and the lemon tree in
the front yard. Son has the two-bedroom condo eight minutes
away, on the 10th floor of a high-rise, nice but unspectacular,
nothing close to, in his words, "the usual NBA player palace."
It was that way in Chicago, too. Mom lived in a big house in the
suburb of Buffalo Grove, while Son had a small apartment
downtown, near the arena where for two seasons he plied his
trade for the worst team in the NBA. "It'll always be like
that," says Los Angeles Clippers power forward Elton Brand.
"Wherever I go, Mom goes."

Real estate comes with a price, though, and in this case
Mom--a.k.a. Daisy--pays it in eggs, turkey bacon, pancakes and
French toast. When he's not on the road, Elton will show up at
her place for breakfast four or five times a week, often lugging
his dirty laundry and bringing a couple of teammates. Dinner at
Daisy's? That's fried chicken and greens two or three times a
week.

So meet the NBA's toughest mama's boy, the Clippers' bully of
the low block, the early-exit Dukie who has given his young team
(average age: 26) a ruggedness and a respect that has been
lacking since, well, almost forever. The last time this
franchise advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs was in
1976, and then it was known as the Buffalo Braves. Through
Wednesday's games Los Angeles was 16-15, tied for the
seventh-best record in the brutal Western Conference. In his
first season with the Clippers, Brand was leading them in
scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounding (10.9) and shooting
(52.8%), while making Chicago Bulls executive vice president
Jerry Krause ever more secure in the knowledge that he had
concocted one of the most boneheaded trades in recent history.

It's one thing to deal a player who's likely to be, in NBA
parlance, a 20-and-10-for-10 guy--one who averages 20 points and
10 rebounds over 10 seasons--for a high school player, which is
what Krause did the day before the 2001 draft when he unloaded
Brand for the rights to the No. 2 pick, 18-year-old Tyson
Chandler, and end-of-the-bench forward Brian Skinner. It's quite
another when that 20-and-10-for-10 guy is a citizen of the
highest order, the kind of rock-solid player around whom a
franchise can be built. "The only word I could use when I heard
that Elgin [Baylor, the Clippers' vice president of basketball
operations] had pulled off the trade was shocked," says coach
Alvin Gentry. "The last thing we needed was another young
player, but Elton, though he's only 22, doesn't really qualify.
He's mature beyond his years."

Indeed, the best thing about Brand is that he succeeds in being
both old soldier and new guard. The younger Clippers love him as
one of their own, while the much older ones--well, that would
pretty much be 31-year-old guard Eric Piatkowski--respect him
for providing a model of what a Clipper should be in a town
ruled by the Lakers. "Elton is the hardest-working player I've
seen," says Piatkowski. "That's incredibly important when your
best player is your hardest worker." Michael Smith, a former NBA
forward who's the team's radio play-by-play man, puts his
respect for Brand thusly: "I would be proud to call that young
man my son."

Daisy sure is. She's reserved, unlike her son, who's much more
voluble than his laid-back demeanor suggests. She doesn't like
to be quoted, so let's just say that Elton has fulfilled her
expectations and then some. Daisy raised him and an older son,
Artie McGriff, in low-income housing in Peekskill, N.Y., 45
miles north of New York City. Elton's grandfather, John Timms,
was another big influence on him (Grandson bought Grandpa a
house in Peekskill), but Elton owes most of his success to
Daisy. He has never met his father and, though he knows his
name, would rather it not be mentioned. As a kid, Elton got into
scrapes, but he says he neither drank nor did drugs, and Daisy
didn't let him out of the house until he had shown her his
finished homework. One story has it that Elton considered
jumping straight to the NBA out of Peekskill High, but that's
false. "Going to Duke was an easy decision for me," he says.

So was leaving after two years, particularly when coach Mike
Krzyzewski gave his blessing, even if some Blue Devils fans
didn't. "It was hard getting letters and e-mails that say, 'You
don't deserve to wear the blue-and-white,'" says Brand, who
became the first Duke underclassman to declare himself eligible
for the NBA draft. Shortly afterward, guard William Avery and
forward Corey Maggette (now a Clippers teammate) announced they
were leaving early, too. Brand keeps in touch with Krzyzewski
and says Coach K doesn't dog him about his failure to get a
diploma. "But I think he sends [Duke assistant] Johnny Dawkins
to do it," says Brand with a laugh. (Brand is two years from a
degree in sociology and isn't sanguine about his chances of
earning it.)

Although the Bulls took him with the No. 1 pick in 1999, Brand's
prospects of excelling as a pro were far from certain. His
shooting range topped out at eight feet, and as a 6'8" post man
he would often be called upon to guard 7-footers. If it's too
much to say there's a delicacy about the 265-pound Brand,
there's certainly something unimposing about him. His gait is
light and springy, his talk is high-pitched, and his upper body
is hardly cut. Still, he averaged 20.1 points and 10.0 rebounds
for execrable Chicago in his first two seasons; Tim Duncan,
Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O'Neal and Chris Webber were the
league's only other 20-and-10 players over that span. For
whatever reason, though, Krause felt that Brand wasn't the
player to guide the Bulls out of the abyss, one into which
Krause, miner's hat lit all the way, had marched them.

The spin out of Chicago is that as a defender, Brand will
forever be overpowered. "That was a legit concern even from our
end," says Gentry. "All I can say is, it hasn't happened." In
games against Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs, Karl Malone of
the Utah Jazz and Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trail Blazers,
Brand has held his own. He makes up for his lack of height with
lower-body strength, superb hands, an 89-inch wingspan and sheer
indomitableness. "He's relentless, he's skilled, he's a young
Charles Barkley," says O'Neal. "Only much quieter."

It's all but impossible to keep Brand from getting to the block
once he's determined to do so, and he's not to be budged once
he's there. Nor will he be discombobulated by double teams once
he gets the entry pass. "From Day One," says Clippers forward
Lamar Odom, who has known Brand since their teens, "he's been a
brute." Brand has a standard face-up jumper and jump hook--"sort
of an old man's game," says Maggette--but enough twists and
turns, wriggles and wrinkles to keep from being predictable.
Odom marvels at a move Brand has perfected in which he charges
along the baseline as if he's going to try a reverse layup, then
stops suddenly and bulls his way up on the near side of the hoop.

His shooting range, which is up to 12 feet, has to expand if he
is to get into the Duncan-Malone-Wallace class. He's
accomplished on the pick-and-roll but not on the pick-and-pop,
in which the pick setter drifts away from the basket and gets
the ball for an 18-footer. If Brand doesn't master that shot, it
won't be for lack of trying. It's a matter of honor for him to
be the last man firing after every practice, his wristy,
low-arced jumpers drawing a steady mantra from assistant coach
Rex Kalamian: "Higher, E. Keep it high."

What increases Brand's importance to this young team, though, is
the fact that he's not an all-work-no-play straight arrow. Yes,
he can usually be found leaving the arena in a designer suit,
often walking beside the 22-year-old Maggette (cornrows),
20-year-old forward Darius Miles (baggy jeans, leather jacket)
and 21-year-old guard Quentin Richardson (matching Argyle
'do-rag and sweater vest). Brand's epidermis is startlingly
tattoo-free. As he puts it, "I didn't want to be 65, look at
myself and say, 'Man, I got a heart with an arrow through it on
me. How did that happen?'"

Though there's neither hip nor hop to his playing style and
appearance, his musical tastes are in line with almost everyone
else's on this callow squad: Jay-Z, Biggie, Nelly and Nas. He
dresses down from time to time, too, looking, in oversized jeans
and 'do-rag, as if he's Miles's older brother. "You see him
looking like that," says point guard Jeff McInnis, who's an
ancient 27, "and you can't believe it's the same guy who goes
out of here in a suit."

Brand is aware that he has a size 15 firmly planted in each of
two camps. "I love hip-hop, the clothes, the videos, the whole
thing. That's me," he says. "At the same time I'm all about
straight business. That's me too." That dual identity is what
his teammates respect about him. "He's totally down with
everybody, but his maturity level is high," says Maggette. "Even
at Duke he was like that. It was the way that his mother brought
him up."

Brand has put his brand of solid professionalism on the
Clippers, no doubt, and with his contract running through the
2002-03 season, he has a chance to make an even greater
impression. Nonetheless, Los Angeles is a loosey-goosey, sassy,
unpredictable team--a teen movie in red and blue. Less than an
hour before a recent game McInnis and Miles sat at their
lockers, sneaking a box supper. "I'm only eating the roll," said
McInnis. Miles, though, was going for the fried chicken. "You
should see what I can eat before a game," he said. "See, I got
the young system."

Before Brand's arrival, the Clippers belonged to Odom, who awes
his teammates with his burgeoning versatility and keeps them in
stitches with his street-smart argot. McInnis describes Gentry's
calling for more defensive effort in a huddle, and Odom's
blurting, "'Sup, son, we gotta get a stop, awry?" Everybody
looked at him and cracked up. With Odom's having collected two
drug suspensions in eight months, however, some in the Clippers'
organization believe that the leadership should be placed in
more reliable hands. Or, at least, that Brand should exercise
both his will and his vocal cords a little more strenuously. "I
didn't want to step on anybody's toes," says Brand. "But after
Lamar got suspended [from Nov. 5 to Nov. 20], I did feel I had
to take a little more of the leadership role. We can both be
leaders, each in his own way."

For the moment Brand's way will continue to be that of the quiet
warrior, furious and fierce on the court, steady and serene off
it. A recent postpractice moment found Gentry telling Brand that
L.A.'s other pro coach, a fellow named Phil Jackson, gets a
dinner from a top restaurant brought to him by his girlfriend,
Jeanie Buss, the boss's daughter, before every game. "I told [my
wife] Suzanne about it," said Gentry, "and she said, 'Oh, honey,
I didn't know you wanted a nice dinner. Just call Jeanie Buss
and tell her to bring you one.'"

Brand laughed and put his arm around Gentry. "I'll take care of
you, Coach. What do you want, hot cereal or cold cereal?"

"Don't you make anything else?" Gentry asked.

"Pancakes," said Brand. Then he smiled. "Well, actually, my mom
makes pancakes."

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (BRAND) Mixing street tastes off the court with a button-down approach on it, Elton Brand, here with his ever-lovin' mom, Daisy, is infusing Los Angeles's other team with a new identity [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER TWO COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Low pressure Although constantly facing taller opponents, the 6'8" Brand is a force in the lane, whether under the boards or going to the hoop.

"He's relentless, he's skilled, he's a young Charles Barkley,"
says O'Neal. "Only much quieter."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)