CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Most know him as Nelly, platinum-selling rapper and part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. Bradley Beal also knows him as Cornell Haynes, the family friend who would occasionally walk him to elementary school before hitting it big.
Nelly was a former star athlete at University City High in suburban St. Louis, where Beal’s mother, Besta, was a physical education teacher and athletic director. So, Beal can’t remember the first time he met Nelly, only that it was “ages ago.”
“I knew who we was, but I didn’t know,” Beal said of the now 39-year-old Nelly. “He used to walk me to school sometimes, when I was a little kid. He wasn’t as big as he is now, but he was an up-and-coming rapper and eventually ‘Country Grammar’ came out” in 2000.
Even Wizards television broadcaster Steve Buckhantz is aware of Nelly these days and tried to pass along his knowledge to partner Phil Chenier after spotting him seated courtside during Washington’s 97-83 victory over the Bobcats at Tim Warner Cable Arena. But Tuesday’s victory also was the first time that Beal could remember Nelly actually attending one of his games – and he bounced back from a slump with 21 points on 10 of 18 shooting.
“Yeah, I needed him to be able to show up to games,” Beal said with a laugh, when asked about Nelly, “but nah, I just stayed with it. My teammates did a great job of setting me up. And I was shooting the ball with a lot of confidence and was fortunate to get a couple to fall.”
Beal was playing so well that Nelly started heckling him to let up a bit on Charlotte. “He was telling me, ‘Don’t do ‘em like that.’ It was cool,” Beal said with a smile. “He owns a little bit of the Bobcats, so I was like, I couldn’t really say too much. Couldn’t shake his hand, but it was definitely cool.”
Beal recently admitted that his current minutes restriction has made it tough for him to find a consistent rhythm. He had averaged just 10.3 points on 31.8 percent shooting (14 for 44) in his previous three games. While Coach Randy Wittman acknowledged the challenge that Beal faces, he added before the game, “He’s got to get in the game.”
Beal made his first shot, a baseline jumper off a pass from Trevor Ariza, then did something he has rarely done in the past week. He put the ball on the floor and drove right down the lane for a finger roll. Beal still didn’t attempt any free throws, but he was more aggressive and added another driving layup in the second half.
“I think I went away from that,” said Beal, who scored at least 20 points for the first time since his heroic performance against the New York Knicks on Dec. 16 in his first game back from a stress injury in his right fibula. “I think I was settling for way too many jump shots, instead of attacking the basket and using my body to be able to finish at the rim and I think I did a good job of attacking and creating different situations for them to be able to guard me and my teammates.”
Beal scored nine points in the fourth quarter, nailing a huge jumper after the Bobcats had cut a 17-point lead down to seven with 2 minutes 14 seconds remaining. But he actually got going in the final period with his passing. With the Bobcats focusing on him, Beal fed Marcin Gortat for a jumper and a layup.
“I love playing with Marc,” Beal said. “He plays with a lot of energy, he’s physical and he can finish if you throw him the ball. When we’re out there, we just have that instant connect. We just play off each other and if they’re not going to stop me, I’m going to shoot the ball and if they stop me, I’m going to pass Marc the ball and he’s going to finish or make a play at the basket. Just that one-two punch we got going now, we just got to continue to do that the next couple of games.”
Nelly won’t be around sitting courtside, but Beal was thrilled to have someone he has long admired watching him play for the first time. The two posed for a picture together after the game.
“It’s awesome, because he’s basically the first one to do something big from St. Louis and just everything that he’s done for the city and he gives back and everything he went through in his life and how he supports the youth. He’s definitely been a big impact on everybody,” Beal said. “He supports sports to the fullest and everybody that comes out of St. Louis. So I have to show my appreciation and my love to him as well.”