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.