|New Celtic Avery Bradley had a small but strong support system as he grew up. (Josh Reynolds/ Associated Press)|
Bradley already is well-connected
Alicia Jones-Bradley hand picked the spot she wanted to celebrate her son’s biggest moment. She chose a restaurant in downtown Tacoma, Wash., the Varsity Grill, and invited a small group of family and friends.
The circle that helped raise Avery Bradley wasn’t a large one, but of the couple dozen people invited, each played a role in getting Bradley to the NBA.
“You know when they say it takes a village to raise a child?’’ Jones-Bradley said. “We had our own little village.’’
Bradley’s older sister and two older brothers were there. His AAU coach, Garry Ward, was there. His father, Avery Bradley Sr., however, was in Mississippi.
Bradley got the call from the Celtics moments before David Stern announced the guard’s name June 25 as the 19th overall selection in the 2010 draft. After all the emotion had poured out, Bradley did what he had done the past 10 years. He picked up the phone and dialed his father.
“He was already watching,’’ Bradley said. “He was just really excited to see my dream come true.’’
But the relationship was too important to be over. So even though there was half a country between then, they made sure to stay connected.
Birthdays, Father’s Day, any day.
“Call your dad,’’ she’d say.
At least once a month.
“Have you called your father?’’
“I would always encourage him to call his dad,’’ she said. “Even though your mom and dad can’t be together, family is still important. Family is what keeps you going. That’s what keeps you strong, that’s what keeps you encouraged. Family.’’
Even if he was too young to appreciate it then, Bradley does now.
“She obviously knew that she couldn’t take that role in my life, both dad and mom, so she would always encourage me to always have a relationship with my dad,’’ he said. “She basically instilled that in my head, so once we started getting older it was a habit for us.’’
When Bradley Sr. and Jones-Bradley were together, Bradley Sr. always tried to be the best father he could be. He put his son in Tee-ball leagues, and played soccer and football with him.
He remembers walking through a park in Washington with his son when Bradley Jr. was just 7 years old. Bradley Jr. said what young boys say at that age. “I want to play basketball. I want to be in the NBA.’’
Bradley Sr. said what fathers tell their sons.
“You can do anything in the world you want to.’’
“I was away from my kids all the time,’’ Bradley Sr. said. “When I was there, they’ll tell you they couldn’t ask for a better dad. But they knew dad had to work. It beats you up inside. It hurts, but you’ve got a job to do.’’
He and Alicia divorced in 2001, and they both thought about how it would affect Bradley Jr.
“He took it real hard,’’ Bradley Sr. said. “He was divided between his mom and dad. But we always stuck together. When it came to our children we always stood by each other.’’
Their lives were immediately different.
Adding to it all, Jones-Bradley moved from Tacoma to Texas with her children and worked two jobs to make sure they maintained the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to.
“Mothers just do what they have to do,’’ she said. “Because my husband and I weren’t together and our children were used to living a certain way, I didn’t feel like they needed to be without that even though they weren’t going to have both parents in the household.
“So I just worked my butt off to make sure they had what they needed. And you know once they start getting older those gym shoes cost a lot. It may have been a guilt thing, but it was something I felt like I owed my children to make sure they were comfortable in the transition going from two parents to one.’’
They moved back to Tacoma three years later. In that time, Jones-Bradley had put Bradley Jr. in basketball programs mostly as an outlet, not as a career path, but his ability in the sport was only growing.
Ward still remembers his first encounter with a young Bradley who wasn’t necessarily skilled, but was gifted defensively.
“When he first came he tripped all over himself trying to get to the basket,’’ Ward said. “He was a slasher, couldn’t shoot a lick, but boy could he play some defense.’’
Over the next two years, Ward and Bradley were around each other nearly four days a week, and Jones-Bradley started to notice the relationship Ward was developing with her son.
As powerful as motherhood is when raising a boy, it still has its limitations.
“I can’t teach you how to be a man,’’ Jones-Bradley said. “I can show you how to be respectful to women, but I can’t teach you how to be a man.’’
“When I asked him what does he like about Garry, he said he likes that Garry doesn’t sugarcoat anything. There’s no lies. There’s no ifs, ands, or maybes. He can appreciate a no-nonsense person.’’
Ward never coddled Bradley. In fact, there was one game when the two of them argued on the floor because Bradley was being torched. A Seattle-area sharpshooter named Peyton Siva (now at Louisville) was on fire from long distance, and Ward called a timeout.
“In our program, probably the worst thing you could have happen to you as a player, is me call time out and meet you out on the court while everyone else is walking by,’’ Ward said.
He yelled the way coaches do. “I don’t know what you’re doing but you better figure this out, Pey-Pey’s kicking our butts,’’ he said. “You better shut him down.’’
Bradley yelled back, “Coach, I’m doing the best I can. If you think you got somebody better than me why don’t you put him in?’’
Ward called his bluff. “I said, ‘OK, you take your butt over there and sit down.’ ’’
Frustrated on the bench, Bradley had enough. He walked up to Ward and apologized. “I’m sorry Coach, I’m sorry. Let me back in the game.’’
“In the heat of the battle we’re all emotional,’’ Ward said. “Sometimes I had to apologize to him. Sometimes he had to apologize to me.’’
Through Ward, Bradley said he learned to listen more to the message than the tone.
“Since the first day I met him, he just always wanted to push me to my full potential and I just respect him for that,’’ Bradley said. “He’s a person that always kept going and made me want to get better every single day.’’
He told his mom, “You’re not supposed to go away from home for your senior year. You’re supposed to go away for college, and I’m not in college yet. So, mom, I’m not going anywhere yet.’’
But Ward and Jones-Bradley were trying to figure out the best path to make his hoop dreams a reality.
With the grades he was getting at Bellarmine, he wouldn’t have been able to get into some of the top schools even though his marks were good enough to keep him eligible for high school ball. Ward and Bradley-Jones were thinking beyond that. “How do we get him where he’s going?’’ they asked.
There were a handful of high schools that heard Bradley was looking to switch schools. Their pitches seemed insincere. “They would say, ‘We can do everything that Avery needs to ensure that he has the right GPA coming out of high school to be college eligible,’ ’’ Ward recalled. “Those were people that were trying to give Avery something, and Avery didn’t need anybody to give him anything.’’
Bradley made a call to Mississippi before he made his decision. The military opened an entire world up for Bradley Sr., and the advice the father offered was simple. “I told him he needed to grow,’’ Bradley Sr. said.
Ultimately, Bradley left for Findlay Prep. About a month in, he and Ward had a talk.
Bradley told Ward, “Coach, I could have stayed at Bellarmine Prep. I didn’t have to come here.’’
Ward said, “Why are you saying that?’’
Bradley said, “They’re not helping me with my schoolwork, they’re making me do it all myself.’’
Ward said, “No kidding? That was the plan.’’
He made the seven-hour drive from Mississippi to almost every home game. He would bring his mother and his brothers and sisters and they would stay in Dallas and drive to Austin. Some days, Bradley Jr. would drive up to Dallas to spend time with his father’s side of the family.
“My son and I have a bond that can’t be broken,’’ Bradley Sr. said.
The weekend after the draft, Jones-Bradley had another banquet. This time, Bradley Sr. flew up to be a part of it. One thing he couldn’t help thinking was how fast time had flown by.
“It’s like a flash to me,’’ Bradley Sr. said. “It’s like I blinked my eyes and my baby boy grew up.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.