Brand, Elton 1979–
Elton Brand 1979–
Professional basketball player
Named the National Basketball Association’s Co-Rookie of the Year in 2000, Elton Brand was one of professional basketball’s most promising young players at the dawn of the new century. But he was more than that: at the tender age of 21, he had become something of a team leader for the rebuilding Chicago Bulls. Basketball observers noted his ability and his devotion to hard work, but they also sensed a quality sometimes lacking at the top level of professional sports and especially surprising in a player who had skipped the last two years of his college career—maturity. “He’s very mature for his age,” Bulls guard B. J. Armstrong told Sports Illustrated. “He’s like a 40-year-old man trapped inside the body of a 20-year-old.”
Many observers have wondered about the source of Brand’s almost supernatural calm in pressure-packed and often frustrating situations, but he and his family point to religion. Elton Brand was born north of New York City in Peekskill, New York, on March 11, 1979. Raised by his single mother Daisy Brand (and given his first name by his nine-years-older half-brother Artie), he grew up in an environment in which importance was placed on church attendance. “Going to church has had a peaceful effect on me,” Brand told the New York Times. “I just don’t seem to get upset. When I do, I usually keep it inside of me and use it when I’m playing.”
Growing up in Peekskill’s Dunbar Heights Housing Complex, Brand lacked positive role models. “Living in an apartment complex like I do, a lot of the people smoke weed, but they don’t approach me with that because they know I’m on a mission,” he told the Times. “Even though we live in an environment that says you don’t have much money and you’re not going anywhere,” his mother added, “Elton always saw himself as being somebody.”
Brand took up basketball at age 10. With his massive frame—he weighed close to 250 pounds as a junior at Peekskill High School—he could easily have chosen to become a football player or divided his time and energy between the two sports. But his mother recognized where his true passion lay. “He wanted to play football and I wouldn’t let him,” she told the New York Times. “He wakes up basketball and he sleeps it. He pursues it. It is him.”
At a Glance…
Born March 11, 1979, in Peekskill, New York; raised by mother, Daisy Brand. Education: Peekskill High School, diploma, 1997; attended Duke University, Durham, NC.
Careen: Professional basketball player. High school standout heavily recruited by top national college basketball programs; led Duke team to NCAA finals as sophomore, 1999; became No. 1 pick in 1999 pro draft; signed to Chicago Bulls; traded to Los Angeles Clippers, 2001.
Awards: Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and AP All-America selection, 1999; shared Rookie of the Year award with Steve Francis, 2000.
Addresses: Team office—Los Angeles Clippers, 1111 S. Figueroa St., Suite 1100, Los Angeles, CA 90015.
Despite his devotion to basketball, though, Brand never neglected his academic studies. While academic eligibility is sometimes a problem for phenomenal young basketball players, Brand’s admission to highly competitive Duke University was never in doubt. During his high school junior year, Brand took honors or advanced-placement courses in English, chemistry, and American history, topping those off with doses of trigonometry and third-year Spanish. As a senior he ranked sixteenth academically in a class of 160. “Elton’s an all-around, terrific kid,” Peekskill guidance counselor Eleanor Frank Frey told the Times. “He’s caring, kind, considerate and respectful. He doesn’t have an attitude of superiority, and he could very well have that. He’s a male mentor for freshman students.”
On the court Brand was sensational, attracting visits from coaches of powerhouse basketball programs from all over the country. He led the Peekskill High team to two state championships, averaging nearly 26 points per game over his high school career. Brand was named a McDonald’s All-American in his senior year and also played for the powerful Riverside Church (Manhattan, New York City) team in the off-season Amateur Athletic Union (AAU).
Over his two years at Duke, Brand seemed on his way to shattering school records. As a freshman, despite missing 15 games with a broken foot, he was named to the all-Atlantic Coast Conference freshman team and played a key role in Duke’s advance to the quarterfinals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s postseason championship tournament, “Elite Eight.” As a sophomore he averaged 17.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, won ACC Player of the Year, several national player-of-the-year awards, and led Duke to the national finals.
Despite his stated intentions to finish college, Brand left Duke after his sophomore year, becoming the first player ever under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to jump to the pros. The reason was simply that physically, technically, and emotionally, Brand was ready for the NBA. Of course, some expected Brand to encounter the same rude awakening faced by other college stars as they collide for the first time with courts full of players whose abilities are equal to their own. Adding to the challenge was a new set of technical skills to be learned: at 6’ 8” Brand had played the position of center through high school and college, but in the pros, where seven-footers are common, he could no longer dominate the basket area through sheer size. He became a “power forward”—a forward who often drives to the basket and actively competes for rebounds on defense.
Brand was the number one pick in the NBA draft of June of 1999. He was selected by the Chicago Bulls, a team that had struggled since the retirement of superstar Michael Jordan and other key players in the 1990s. Brand quickly adapted to the challenges he faced and emerged as a calming and unifying influence on the fresh group of Bulls players. He seemed unfazed by the big players he faced, barely breaking stride from his Duke totals as he averaged 20.1 points and 10 rebounds per game in his first year. His only frustrations came as a result of the Bulls’ losing record—he had come out on the losing end of very few basketball games before coming to Chicago. In May of 2000, Brand shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Houston Rockets guard Steve Francis.
Through much of the 2000-2001 season Brand was hailed as the linchpin of a possible new Chicago dynasty, as a potential successor to Michael Jordan himself. Brand duplicated his 1999-2000 points-per-game total of 20.1 and, showing equal consistency, improved his rebounds per game from 10.0 to 10.1; his 3.9 offensive rebounds per game were the second best in the NBA. The Bulls’ fortunes did not improve, however, and in August of 2001 Brand was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers; the Bulls received two players in exchange. Regardless of where he played, it seemed likely that he would continue to offer fans some basketball heroics and to support his teammates with that rare quality called leadership.
Basketball Digest, Summer 2000, p. 50.
Chicago Sun-Times, March 29, 2000, p. 125.
Jet, May 29, 2000, p. 47; August 6, 2001, p. 55.
New York Times, February 25, 1996, p. Westchester-1; January 10, 1997, p. B12; March 23, 2000, p. D1.
Sport, January 1999, p. 84.
The Sporting News, November 20, 2000, p. 46.
Sports Illustrated, November 1, 1999, p. 180.
—James M. Manheim
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