Beverly Grant tries to get started in the summer. She creates a calendar and starts plotting basketball games, color-coding each of her sons. By time she has finished, most weeks from October until March are a patchwork of green, red, yellow and orange with very few days left blank.
“It’s the only way to keep it all straight,” she said.
Beverly then prints the calendars and starts planning her fall and winter, trying to see as many of her sons’ games as possible: Friday nights in a high school gym, weekend drives across the Midwest for a college game, an overnight trip to Philadelphia for an NBA contest.
It’s a lot of juggling, but by now, the Grant family is used to it. The four boys grew up chasing their father, Harvey, around NBA courts and locker rooms and cheering on their uncle, Horace, as he vied for NBA championships. Now, Jerai, 26, is playing professionally overseas; 22-year old Jerian is a fifth-year senior at Notre Dame who has emerged as one of college basketball’s top players; Jerami is a 20-year old rookie for the Philadelphia 76ers; and the youngest, 18-year old Jaelin, is finishing up his senior season at DeMatha, the same school where his brothers starred.
It’s not as simple as the genes, their father said. There’s a passion and work ethic — “They know what it takes to get there,” Harvey notes — and both parents have watched the boys grow up in the game. There were dunk contests on a toy rim affixed to a door in the Bowie home, Saturday morning highlight shows instead of cartoons and playground games with bedtime bragging rights on the line.
“I used to sit back and just watch them play,” said Harvey, 50. “You talk about fighting and crying. I’m from the old school, so I’d sit back and watch them for a minute. Then when it got too rough, I’d step in.”
Any hurt feelings were usually gone by the next morning. Because the Grants are so close in age, they were inseparable, younger brothers usually tailing around the older ones. “Growing up with them was a surreal experience. They’re all so close,” said Victor Oladipo, the Orlando Magic guard who played at DeMatha with Jerian and Jerami.
The boys would battle over whatever was placed in front of them. Beverly remembers hours-long games of Monopoly usually coming to a premature conclusion. “Someone would be losing money and suddenly they’d take the board and flip it upside down,” she said. “It always seemed to end with all the money all over the floor.”
“We were competitive with each other,” Jerian said, “but it was always good, always pushing each other.”
Harvey played 11 years in the NBA, including two stints in Washington, wearing both Bullets and Wizards’ jerseys during his career. He and his twin brother were recognized everywhere by the signature goggles they wore on the court. Harvey’s sons were easy to remember, too, rambunctious, pint-sized basketball junkies who accompanied their father to work as often as possible.
“Once you grow up around something for so long, you just kind of fall in love with it,” Jerami said. “That's what happened for me and my brothers. Obviously, we looked up to my dad as a father. But we also looked up to him as a basketball player.”
Harvey would rebound for his sons, offering pointers and tips on technique. As his oldest sons began showing promise — and after retiring from the NBA in 1999 — Harvey would play one-on-one with his boys.
“Believe me, I didn’t let up. Not one bit,” he said. “I knew there was going to come a day they were going to outplay me, so I had to get all my wins in early.”
Jerai was the first to enroll in DeMatha, eventually earning a scholarship to Clemson, where both his dad and uncle played. (Harvey Grant later transferred to Oklahoma.) A 6-foot-8 grinding defender, Jerai has played in Australia, Italy, Israel, Bosnia and the past two seasons in Latvia.
Because Jerian and Jerami are just two years apart, they often played on the same teams, bridging the age gaps between their oldest brother and youngest. Here’s how Jerian describes their group dynamic:
“We talk about ourselves as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were four of them, and there are four of us,” he said. “Leonardo’s like the leader: That’s my oldest brother. Jerai says something, you gotta listen, gotta follow. Me: I’m Michelangelo, the clown. I joke around a lot, play games. Then Jerami is Raphael. He can be a hot head, has a temper, gets ticked off — just has a real fire inside of him. Jaelin is the youngest, but he holds things together. He’s got a bit of everybody’s best qualities, you know?”
The group rallies together when they need to. Last year, as Jerami was finishing an impressive sophomore campaign at Syracuse and on the verge of declaring early for the NBA draft, Jerian’s college career was at a crossroads. He was leading the Fighting Irish with 19 points and six assists per game when he was suspended for what he and his team have called an “academic mistake.”
As he weighed whether to return to Notre Dame or jump to the pros, he leaned on his family, visiting his grandparents, his brother Jerami at Syracuse and then traveling to California to see his uncle. There, he worked out and dissected televised games with Horace.
“When you’re not playing ball anymore, a lot of people stop talking to you,” Jerian said. “Not family. They never leave you. I talked to them every day. They kept telling me, ‘Stay strong, We’re here for you no matter what.’ ”
He re-enrolled last June and this year has shown that few players in the nation are as valuable to their teams. Without Jerian in the lineup, the Fighting Irish finished last season with a 7-13 skid. Now he's back in the mix, the most important cog for the nation's ninth-ranked team, and Notre Dame boasts a 24-5 record, 12-4 in the ACC. Jerian is averaging 16.9 points and 6.5 assists .
Harvey and Beverly, who are divorced, try to attend as many games as possible. Driving to South Bend, Ind., often means leaving the Washington area in the middle of the night. Heading to Philadelphia to watch the 76ers is much easier. Jerami, a 6-foot-8 forward, was a second-round pick last spring and is averaging 5.7 points as a Philadelphia reserve.
For the two parents, seeing Jerami in the league is a chance to visit an NBA that has changed. Of course, Harvey was a 30-something father of four as his career wound down. When Beverly visits, she hits the grocery store and makes sure her 20-year old son is comfortable in his new city.
“When Harvey played, it was all different. You’re thinking, it’s a job,” Beverly said. “But now you realize: Jerami is still young, still needs guidance.”
There are plenty of differences among the four, both on and off the court. Beverly remembers sitting in the stands before a summer league game and failing to spot Jerai anywhere in the gym. She found him in the car, engrossed in a book. Harvey recalls an eighth-grade Jerian going to school for show-and-tell, carrying a homemade replica of the NBA championship trophy.
Years removed from the family indoor dunk contests, they still drift to the court whenever they’re together. It’s just not as often as they’d like. This summer, they were all in Washington area for about a month. They worked out at DeMatha each morning, grabbed lunch together and then would run in pickup games in the afternoon.
Time passed and they went their separate ways, reporting to the different locales basketball had taken them. Still, they’re on a group text message exchange every day and follow each other’s games on their phones or Internet.
“We’re even closer now," Jerian said, “even though we’re far apart.”