Military upbringings shaped a trio of Celtics

Military upbringings shaped a trio of Celtics
November 29, 2010, 6:18 am
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By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

Shaquille O'Neal, Ray Allen, and Avery Bradley have more in common than the uniforms they wear.

The trio of Boston Celtics grew up in military families. Even though they lived in different parts of the world -- and, in some instances, nearly 20 years apart -- they all bring a similar sense of work ethic, discipline, and respect to the Celtics organization.

ONeal, Allen and Bradley explained to CSNNE.com how their military upbringings have impacted their careers today.

Shaquille O'Neal: He always taught me to have a plan, and my plan was to be one of the best big men ever.

Shaquille O'Neal wasnt always the happy-go-lucky personality he is today. Before he was starring in movies, posing as a statue in Harvard Square, and challenging Justin Bieber to dance-offs on "Shaq Vs.," ONeal attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.

"I got disciplined so much as a youngster, he recalled. "I used to be in so many fights, used to be in trouble all the time."

ONeal grew up in a military home under the watchful eye of his father, Army Sergeant Philip Harrison. Harrison was a drill instructor by day and worked for U-Haul by night.

He taught O'Neal the importance of a strong work ethic -- "Do whatever it takes to make the family happy," ONeal said -- and imparted the value of helping others.

O'Neal recalls Harrison earning extra money and using it to buy blankets and clothing from a thrift store. He then gathered up troops to help deliver the items to the Salvation Army.

On another day, Harrison put his extra money toward hamburgers and gave them to a homeless man on the street.

Then there was the time Harrison was coaching O'Neal's basketball team and a player got hurt. Harrison canceled practice and brought the team to visit sick children at a local hospital. He wanted them to realize how fortunate they were.

"Those things that I saw him do," said ONeal, "That's where I do all the charity work from."

Yet in spite of Harrison's lessons and stern military upbringing, O'Neal didn't always follow the rules. He estimates his family re-located every four years, and he made his mark along the way.

Growing up, O'Neal moved from Newark, N.J., to Hinesville, Georgia. It was there that he beat up another student so badly that the studen suffered a seizure. "That stopped me from being a bully," he said.

But trouble continued when Harrison was stationed in Germany. As a teenager, O'Neal became involved with a group dubbed "The Furious Five," who had a reputation for causing problems. O'Neal had been brought up to know better, though, and made the decision to walk away.

"They stole a car and went to a party that night but the car crashed and one of them died," O'Neal said. "I was supposed to be in that car with him."

The towering teenager took heed to the lessons Harrison had taught him. He focused on basketball and mapped out a career path for himself. O'Neal moved from Germany to San Antonio, Texas before beginning his collegiate career at Louisiana State University.

"It taught me work ethic," ONeal said of his military upbringing and his father's lessons. "He always taught me to have a plan, and my plan was to be one of the best big men ever. I think I've lived up to that plan thus far. Stat-wise, especially when it comes to points, there's only four guys in the history of the game that have done more than this. Championship-wise, there are about 10 to 15 guys that have more rings, but I think my name is up there and I think my name will never be forgotten. That's all I wanted to do as a basketball player."

O'Neal has accomplished his goal and then some. In addition to becoming one of the most iconic figures in the game, he is one of the most recognizable athletes off the court. With an approachable demeanor and larger-than-life personality, O'Neal has captured the attention of fans throughout his 18-year career.

He sees his likeability as a result of constantly having to adjust to new surroundings. Just as he learned to adapt while moving all over the world as a youngster, he's seamlessly transitioned to six different NBA teams. Growing up in New Jersey, Georgia, Germany, and Texas helped him when his basketball travels took him to Baton Rouge, Orlando, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, Cleveland, and Boston.

"Because I moved around so much, I can deal with African-Americans, I can deal with Jewish people, I can deal with Arab people, I can deal with Persian people, and everybody loves me," he said. "Because of my background and how I was moved around and how I was raised, it helps me deal with everybody. And that's why I'm liked by everybody.

"Everybody loves me."

Ray Allen: Im always aware of what I say, what I do, how I have an effect on my teammates."

Ray Allen's discipline is not coincidental.

Growing up on Edwards Air Force Base in California, the son of Master Sergeant Walter Allen was taught about responsibilities and consequences at an early age.

It began with the requirement to carry an identification card at all times.

"It was very disciplined," Ray Allen said. "If you wanted to buy anything from the store, you had to show ID. Any time on base if you got pulled over, you had to show ID. So I think we had a sense of responsibility early in our lives."

With that ID card came accountability, as Allen's actions were tied to his father.

When he was around 10 years old, Allen was caught trying to steal Twizzlers from a shoppette on base. He remembers the sinking feeling as his mother was called to pick him up. Allen knew his attempt to snag candy could impact his entire family.

"It was the worst feeling I had," he said. "When you have a reprimand or they take you to the lock up, then they alert your dad and anything the kids do reflect back on him. If we did something bad, that could result in your dad losing pay or losing a stripe. I was just nervous because if he lost a stripe, that was less money for us, so you saw everything had something to do with the other. I was always worried about that."

Fortunately for Allen, nothing came of the incident. It did, however, make him realize the long-lasting effects of his personal decisions.

"Now I think about being in this realm of life and everything I do, it has some type of consequence or repercussion behind it, he said. "That's why I'm always aware of what I say, what I do, how I have an effect on my teammates."

When Allen was a teenager, his father was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. By that time, he was determined to make it in the NBA. Allen had first gained an interest in basketball when he lived in England and began playing in California. He believed he could make a name for himself in his new home.

"When I left California to move down south, each one of my friends in California knew I was going to make it," he said. "We always felt that the East Coast had better talent. It was true. I got out East and I was playing tougher competition."

Allen and his friends were right. He made his next move to play basketball at the University of Connecticut. Three years later, he was playing professional basketball in Milwaukee.

Allen's career has since taken him to Seattle and Boston. Over a thousand games and one championship later, he believes growing up in a military family has helped him manage a long NBA career.

"I just believe I've adjusted," he said. "Travel is not an issue. Relating to guys from different walks of live, adjusting and adapting to cultures, the weather, everything -- it's all adjustment and you just kind of fall in. You never think that it's a tough situation. This is just life. You just adjust to it, deal with it. Whatever's thrown at you, you just figure it out and find a way to make it better."

Avery Bradley: "I'm not going on the court playing around."

Some 19-year-old rookies could have been intimidated walking into a locker room and seeing the likes of Shaquille ONeal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Others could have tried too hard to prove themselves.

Not Avery Bradley.

Growing up in the Bradley home, the most important rule was respect. Avery Bradley Sr., a high-ranking Army official, wanted his son to have respect for others, whether they were his elders, his family, or his peers.

Even if the younger Bradley didn't always understand it, his fathers message stuck.

"I thought it was just my dad being mean all time, but I guess it was for a reason because it made me a good man today," he said. "I'm respectful to people and I give it all to him because when I was young, he always wanted us to be respectful and give our all with everything we did. Still to this day, that's what I do."

Bradley spent the majority of his childhood in the Tacoma, Washington area. His family moved to Texas for a few years before returning up north, where his backyard bordered the Fort Lewis military base.

"It was super weird because it was the woods, so one day you might walk out and see a deer, the next morning you might walk out and see soldiers walking around with guns," he said. "It was different, it was crazy."

Bradley saw the results of hard work and dedication whenever he visited his father's office. He noticed the respect others held for his father, and he recognized the love his father had for his job.

That attitude translated on to the basketball court. Bradley won a national high school championship and was ranked the top high school player in the country in 2009. After just one season at the University of Texas, he was selected by the Celtics with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

"Every time I'd go out, I would really compete," he said. "I guess I got it from my dad because the Army is so competitive. They're so serious about everything, so that was my approach when I played sports. I would take everything seriously because that's how everything was in my household."

Now that Bradley, who turned 20 last week, has made it to the pros, he is following the values that got him there. The soft-spoken guard has patiently waited for his chance to play, rehabbing through ankle injuries and understanding his place on a veteran team.

Even though he is eager to help the Celtics on the court, he has respect for those who have earned their spots out there before him.

"I really respect the older guys, me being so young," he said. "Not only that, but I want to learn so much from them. They're older so they're serious all the time on the court, and that helps me out a lot. I'm not going on the court playing around. Im taking it serious because I know they're here to win a championship."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba