It was the weekend after Mother’s Day in May 2010 at the League America sports complex in Houston, Texas. A writer from a Big 12 team’s website approached Besta Beal during halftime of a game between the St. Louis Eagles and the Oakland Soldiers. “I’m hearing rumors that Bradley is looking at other schools,” the writer told Besta. Bad idea. Very bad idea.
“I don’t know who you are and I really don’t care,” Besta Beal replied. The writer had hit a hot button. Besta Beal could feel the emotions rising from within and it took some effort to maintain a semblance of control. “We are Beals. When we give our word, our word is good. Maybe that doesn’t mean a thing to you, but it does to us.”
Trying to salvage a measure of dignity, the writer, face draining of color, replied, “Well, that’s what’s out there.”
Another bad idea. This one was worse than the first. Roosevelt Jones’ mother nudged Ben McLemore’s mother. Obviously they had seen Besta Beal riled before. They were fighting back the urge to giggle out loud.
“It’s not out there unless you and some of your buddies are putting it out there,” Besta said. “You didn’t hear it from me. You didn’t hear it from Brad. You didn’t hear it from one of his brothers. You didn’t hear it from his daddy. Now did you?”
She didn’t give him a chance to answer. Besta stuck a foot on the first row of the bleachers and pulled up a pants leg to reveal an orange Nike swoosh with blue outline tattooed just above her ankle.
“Whose colors are these?” she asked. Once again, she didn’t give the writer a chance to answer. His body language said all-out retreat but there was no place to hide. He was surrounded by this one-woman army. “Those colors are the University of Florida. So forget your made-up rumors. He’s a Gator. We’re Gators. He gave his word. We gave our word. Billy Donovan is going to coach my son.”
I told Brad what happened after the Eagles stunned the Soldiers, whose lineup included future college stars Nick Johnson (Arizona), Brandon Ashley (Arizona), Jabari Brown (Missouri), Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky, then transferred to Gonzaga), and Dominic Artis (Oregon) along with future NBA D-Leaguers Norvelle Pelle and Josiah Turner. The Soldiers should have won this game based on talent and size, but they had no answers for Beal, whose supporting cast of McLemore (Kansas, then NBA first round pick of the Sacramento Kings) and Jones (Butler) provided plenty of help.
“You don’t mess with my mama,” Brad answered with a grin. “She raised us all the right way. We give our word and we keep our word.”
All five of the Beal brothers know and understand that you do NOT mess with Besta Beal. Older brothers Brandon and Bruce played college football. Brandon was a tight end at Northern Illinois. Bruce was a center at Alabama State. Twins Byron and Bryon, both 6-4 and more than 300 pounds, will be sophomore offensive linemen at Central Methodist University. These are all very large humans – Brad is the smallest at 6-4, 210 – but all five of them know that certain tone of voice from Besta which means you’re skating on very thin ice at this very moment.
“She’s got this tone,” Brad said that evening. “When you hear it, you don’t argue. You don’t say a thing. You just do what she tells you and you know she’s always going to tell you to do the right thing.”
If there is one thing you should know about Bradley Beal, he will always do the right thing. As if he needs further reminders, he’s got Philippians 4:13 tattooed on his arm – “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
On his AAU and high school teams, Bradley Beal was easily the best player but he never acted like the big dog. He might have been the quietest, least assuming McDonald’s All-American in history, not what you’d expect from a kid who scored 30 with such ease that it was almost astonishing to read his stat line post game. It never really seemed he had scored that many points. Never.
In the one year he spent on the Florida campus, Brad Beal was all about doing the right thing. He was hyped as a future lottery pick even before he arrived in Gainesville but you wouldn’t have known it by his humble demeanor. He went to class and made good grades. He said yes sir and no sir. He was polite. He was thoughtful. Whatever the coaches asked him to do, he did it and didn’t complain. He didn’t act like he was anything special.
But he was.
He was the best player on a Florida basketball team that made it to the Elite Eight game, playing on the wing offensively but forced to defend small forwards who were sometimes 4-6 inches taller at the other end of the floor. He averaged 14.8 points, second best on the team, and a team-high 6.7 rebounds.
When the Gators hit the skids with a three-game losing streak at the end of the 2011-12 regular season, it was Beal who took the Gators on his back but even then it was only at the insistence of Billy Donovan, who told him his time had come to take over the team. He scored 20 against Alabama in the SEC quarter-finals, then another 20 in the semifinals against eventual national champ Kentucky, a game in which Ron Groover, Anthony Jordan and Gary Maxwell almost set officiating back to the era of the center jump after every made basket. In the NCAA Tournament, Beal was Florida’s leading scorer and rebounder. Only an unexplainable collapse in the last five minutes against Louisville kept the Gators from making the Final Four.
* * *
Billy Donovan could have said, “Stay one more year” and Bradley Beal would have stayed. Can you imagine the 2013 Gators if you added Beal to that lineup? But Donovan has never stood in the way of one of his players moving on to the NBA, particularly one who is guaranteed to be a lottery pick. Donovan knows what that kind of money will do – Brad got a three-year deal that pays $4.3 million a year – for a family so he’s like a mama bird kicking baby bird out of the nest.
With the Washington Wizards, Beal is one of the bright up and coming stars in the NBA. He averaged 13.9 points per game as a rookie, 17.1 as a second-year player this year and he’s the Wizards’ leading scorer in the playoffs where he’s averaging 20.7 points for a team that has an excellent chance of meeting the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
His approach in the NBA has been no different than the way he handled his one-year at Florida. He is polite, thoughtful, a great teammate who does what he is asked to do by his coaches and who humbly defers to the guys who have been in the league longer.
He’s a millionaire, but you wouldn’t know it. Some NBA players live with and travel with a huge entourage of ego scratchers and hangers on. Brad lives quietly with older brothers Brandon and Bruce, still reads his Bible and goes about life doing things the right way.
Besta isn’t far away.
Besta Beal played college basketball at Kentucky State, where dad Bobby played football. The other four brothers followed dad’s footsteps. Brad learned to shoot from Besta, who still critiques his shot even when she watches on television.
Back in Houston in 2010 in that game against the Oakland Soldiers, Brad clanked three straight shots off the front iron at the end of the first quarter. During the team huddle between quarters, Brad stole a glance over at Besta, whose left hand tapped upward on her right elbow as she bent her knees and raised up on her toes.
Raise the elbow, it’s drooping. Use your legs more. That’s what she was telling him. As the St. Louis Eagles broke the huddle, Brad Beal was seen taking a couple of imaginary shots at the basket, his elbow raised above his shoulder, his knees flexed.
He glanced once again at his mom. Besta smiled and nodded approval. Brad went on to score more than 30 points and led the Eagles to a win.
“She’s the only shooting coach I’ve ever had,” Brad said post game. “She knows my shot inside out. If I’m missing, all I have to do is look at her and she tells me what I’m doing wrong. She knows my shot so well that she can spot a tiny flaw in what I’m doing. She’s a great coach.”
Besta Beal has also been Brad’s life coach and she has so ingrained good character into him that she doesn’t have to tell him what he’s doing wrong. He does the right thing instinctively, unlike a certain Heisman Trophy quarterback who makes headlines for arrogant disregard for the rules then claims youthful ignorance.
“You raise your boys the right way and they’ll do the right thing,” Besta told me that night after she whacked a writer looking to spread a rumor at the kneecaps. “My expectations for Brad – for all five of my boys – are the same. You’re representing more than just yourself. You’re representing all of us Beals. Remember how you were raised.”
Brad Beal doesn’t have to think about doing the right thing. It’s an involuntary response, just like breathing. Call him a mama’s boy and he’ll grin and nod an emphatic yes.
In his mind, there is probably no greater compliment.