BOSTON — Milwaukee's Terrell Brandon can claim one National Basketball Association honor that Michael Jordan can't. He is a winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, a distinction bestowed on just one other player so far, Detroit's Joe Dumars.
The league instituted the award last season, perhaps in part to offset the poor example of certain players. The selection of Dumars kick-started the tradition as the season opened, but then, in what will be the usual pattern, Brandon was named the best sportsman at the end of the 82-game campaign.
When approached at a morning shootaround in Boston before a recent Bucks-Celtics game, Brandon removed his wraparound shades and acknowledged his surprise at winning the award, voted on by members of the media.
It's not that he feels unworthy to be the 1996-97 recipient, it's just that he only does what comes naturally.
When frustration tempts him, Brandon says in his deep voice, he shifts focus. "I remember not to be an embarrassment to my family or my hometown of Portland, Ore. I also remember the type of training my parents instilled in me."
Although a minister's son, Brandon says the label doesn't come with any guarantees. Still, it has long been clear that the values his mother and father taught him were not lost on Terrell.
In high school, he was presented a humanitarian award. "It was for being a good person, for having respect for your elders, yourself, and your classmates," he says.
He remains a civic leader in Portland, where he's built an inner-city commercial complex that includes a barbershop, clothing store, and the offices of his Tee Bee Enterprises.
Brandon is more action than words. He's wise to the ways of trash-talking opponents, though, and knows not to let their chatter incite him.
"I think when you take it too personally, that's when it becomes a problem," he says. "It's just a motivational tool for some guys. I choose not to do it. I let my play do the talking."
And talk it has. He's logged seven solid seasons since leaving the University of Oregon in 1991. Last year, he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, which heralded him as the NBA's top playmaker. He also appeared in his second consecutive All-Star Game and is only the eighth player in league history under six feet tall selected as an NBA All-Star (he's 5 ft. 11 in.).
Next summer, he will play for the United States at the men's basketball world championships in Athens.
Despite his value to the Cleveland Cavaliers, they traded him in September to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The move hasn't fazed him. "It's been easy because every year I've tried to prepare myself for a trade so when it happened it wouldn't be devastating to me," he says. "I also view it as a business decision by the team, not a personal decision."
The fact that Brandon finds himself in another low-key city suits him. "I'm not trying to complicate my life," he says. "I want to keep it very simple: Play the game, enjoy the game, but when it's over go home."
Regardless of where he's playing or living, Brandon keeps in touch with his folks. His mother has formed an organization called Mothers of Professional Basketball Players that helps the moms of new players know what to expect and how they can help their sons.
And what's the group's basic message? "That the advice a mom has given her son over the years shouldn't change now because of popularity or money," Terrell Brandon says. "No matter what, she's still a mother."