Blakely: Credit family values for Bass' NBA success

Blakely: Credit family values for Bass' NBA success
December 19, 2011, 11:42 pm
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BOSTON In a couple weeks the NBA calendar will flip over to a new year, a time when most thoughts shift towards the future.

For Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass, the turning of the calendar actually turns back the hands of time to when he was a 9-year-old boy who witnessed the unthinkable - the death of his mother, Aretha Bass.

It was January 6, 1995.

His mother was on the phone, a not-so-unusual sight in the Bass house.

Before he knew anything, she was short of breath, gasping for air.

Not knowing what to do to help her, he did the only thing you could expect a 9-year-old to do in that situation - he ran outside for help, searching for someone, anyone, to call 9-1-1.

But help did not come in time, as Aretha Bass, 32, died of a heart attack.

When you see Bass on the court playing with what coaches like to refer as "high energy," you can thank Aretha Bass for that.

Her death brought home a point that, for young people at least, often goes ignored until it's too late.

"You can't take nothing for granted," he said in an interview with CSNNE.com. "When I'm out there on the court, I don't know if that's going to be my last game or my last minute. So I go hard, all the time."

That type of mindset is exactly what the Celtics desperately need more of heading into the 2011-2012 season which begins on Christmas Day.

"She was definitely a big influence on me and who I am today," Brandon said.

While his mother's death helped him to develop a seize-the-moment mentality, it was his Aunt Estelle Bass who instilled a work ethic in him that is hard to ignore.

Eight is enough

Being the oldest, Brandon took the death of his mother extremely hard, according to his aunt.

Things didn't get better when Brandon and his brother and sister moved in with his father, Charles Joseph.

"He went to stay with his daddy and things weren't working out," Estelle Bass told CSNNE.com in a phone interview.

With five children of her own, Estelle Bass was not in position financially to take in Brandon and his two siblings.

But she did anyway.

"For her to have the courage to bring us in, being as she already had five kids, that alone was a blessing in itself for me, my brother and my little sister," Brandon said.

With another three mouths to feed and care for, Estelle Bass did the only thing that made sense at the time - she got a second job.

"Nobody else in the family wanted them," she said.

After rising early to make sure the kids were off to school and had whatever they needed for the day, she was off to work at a Holiday Inn.

When she finished working there, she would come home and make dinner. She would stay home just long enough to catch her breath before leaving for the night cleaning shift at a nearby bank.

Even with a small house filled with eight kids, she still looked out for other families and friends in the neighborhood, Brandon said.

"She was like the neighborhood mama," he said. "She was always giving what she could, to help others."

And Brandon has adopted a similar approach since he left the neighborhood known as EasyTown ("But nothing comes easy, in EasyTown," Bass says).

"When you come from where I came from, when you reach some type of success, you want to give back and help others that were in the same position you were in," Brandon said. "That's one of the reasons why I help others and give back."

In the summer months, he conducts free basketball camps. And during the fall, he has backpack giveaways.

"Growing up, I didn't have much," says Bass, a soft-spoken man which is in striking contrast to his physically punishing style of play. "Because my Aunt had eight kids growing up. So it was tough on her to make sure we have all that, but we did. I figure if I could go back to my neighborhood, and help mothers out, I think it would be a great thing."

Big decision

Bass' first opportunity to help his Aunt out came in 2004 following an impressive freshman year at LSU in which he averaged 12.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and was named SEC Freshman of the Year.

Unsure of where he would land in the draft, Bass pulled his name out.

Smart move.

He was even better as a sophomore, earning SEC Player of the Year honors while averaging 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds per game and shooting 56.7 percent from the field.

The pros liked his game, but they weren't sold that it would translate at the next level.

"He was an undersized power forward who was athletic, but had a few knocks against him, too," said one NBA executive who did scout Bass when he was in college. "He couldn't handle the ball too well, and he can't really handle it that much better now. And when he got the ball, he was looking to score all the time. That hasn't really changed, either. When that's your game, and you're undersized for your position, teams are going to want you to prove yourself before they shell out big money for you."

Not a problem.

After two relatively modest seasons with the New Orleans Hornets who selected him in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft, Bass took his game to Dallas.

It was his time with the Mavericks that seemed to establish the foundation for Bass' game today.

"Dallas was a great situation for me," Brandon said. "They gave me a chance to play some, and I made the most of the minutes they gave me."

In his first season with Dallas, he averaged 8.3 points per game while seeing 19.7 minutes of court action a night. Proving it was no fluke, he averaged comparable minutes (19.4) and put up comparable (8.5) scoring numbers the following season.

So when he hit the free agent market in 2009, there were plenty of teams that were interested. He ultimately agreed to a four-year, 16 million deal with the Orlando Magic who traded Bass to Boston in exchange for Glen Davis and Von Wafer.

More than a player

Now a member of the Celtics, Bass is quickly becoming a fan favorite for the very things that have embodied his career - hustle, the ability to score facing the basket, and tough, rugged play around the glass.

In the Celtics' 76-75 preseason win over Toronto, Bass led all Celtics reserves with nine points and five rebounds. He also tallied three steals, which to some degree speaks to how the many questions about his play defensively may not be as big an issue as some think.

You can count Celtics head coach Doc Rivers among those who didn't think much of Bass as a defender when he signed with Orlando.

"I thought by the end of the time when he left (Orlando), he had become one," Rivers said.

Rivers believes that Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy made a point of trying to instill the value of being a good defender, into Bass.

"You have to be a willing participant (to improve defensively)," Rivers said. "And I thought he (Bass) became that."

But ultimately the decision on whether Bass were to become a Celtic came down to Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations.

Ainge has made no secret about how he feels about Bass' game.

But the more you hear Ainge talk about him, the clearer it becomes that his affinity for Brandon goes beyond what he does on the court.

"Brandon is just a real high character, high energy player," Ainge said. "He's a fantastic mid-range shooter; just a real active player with a lot of athleticism and energy.

Ainge added, "We've always admired who he is, as much as what he can do on the court."

And there are many who have come in and out of Brandon's life to help shape him into being a person viewed in such a positive light.

But you need to look no further than the turning of the calendar - January 6, to be precise - to see where Brandon's greatest influence came from.