Even before his parents urged his two older brothers to live with him in Washington this season, Bradley Beal was determined to take his family with him on his journey through the NBA.
Beal sketched a design that he wanted etched on his right upper arm: four descending stars, with the letters B-E-A-L inside, and names of his four siblings — Brandon, Bruce, Byron and Bryon — to the right of the stars. The names of his parents, Bobby and Besta, arch above them all.
Besta Beal joined her son at the tattoo parlor when he got his first ink at age 15, and he needed her permission, because otherwise, “she would’ve killed me,” Bradley said with a laugh. Beal provided all of the artwork on his arms — including praying hands with his favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, on his left arm — but he doesn’t draw much anymore.
His hands are now reserved for that beautiful, textbook release on his jump shot, which convinced the Washington Wizards to draft him third overall last June. And as he prepares to make his NBA debut Tuesday in Cleveland, Beal will continue to flaunt a constant reminder of the support system that got him there — and keeps the St. Louis native grounded at age 19.
“I’ve always thanked them for everything they’ve done,” said Beal, the middle of five brothers. “Because I know a lot of kids don’t have their family, or don’t have one of their parents or don’t have the siblings that I have. But I knew without them, or without them pushing me and without God, of course, I wouldn’t even be here.”
Besta taught Bradley how to shoot and made him stop playing football (his first love) as a high school sophomore and focus on the sport that could take him further. Bobby told him to never show his frustrations on the court and to maintain the same demeanor whether he was playing well or poorly.
Brandon, a former tight end and shooting guard at Northern Illinois, and Bruce, a former offensive lineman at Alabama State, roughed him up at the neighborhood YMCA basketball court with hard fouls to make him physically and mentally tougher. And twins, Byron and Bryon — both nimble, 300-pound-plus offensive linemen at Bradley’s former high school, Chaminade Prep — forced him to become more crafty during some competitive two-on-one basketball games.
Bruce, 24, was the first to notice the basketball potential when his little brother was in sixth grade. Beal hit eight three-pointers in the first half of a game, and Bruce said he would be in the league one day.
“Everybody thought I was crazy,” Bruce Beal said. “I was like, ‘just wait.’ ”
Beal made sure they didn’t have to wait long, declaring for the NBA after just one season at Florida. A pre-med major, Beal said he thought he would be in college for four years, but decided to adjust those plans when it became clear the league would call sooner.
Those close to Beal marvel at how responsible and mature he is for someone who won’t turn 20 until next June. Though he is slated to earn $4.13 million this season and is close to signing a multiyear deal with Nike, Beal chose an apartment in Arlington rather than the District to keep down his expenses.
“I’m definitely going to be conservative,” Beal said. “Especially in a city like this, all the stuff that you can do, all the activities and places to go, it’s easy to spend your money and get caught up in that lifestyle. I think I’m on the right path.”
His parents still wanted to help him get acclimated to life in the demanding, and often deflating, world of professional sports. Besta and Bobby sent Bruce and Brandon to live with him, to ensure that there was a support system in place to ease some of the pressures and keep him occupied with positive distractions.
“He’s very intelligent beyond his years, but you know he’s 19. He might have problems at the office. He’ll always have someone there, his brothers, that he can vent to,” Bobby Beal said. “It’s just as much for us, as it is for him. He could go astray easily. Somebody come up to him or they might say something or try to get him to do this or do that. He probably could do it on his own. If they hadn’t done it, I would’ve gone up there.”
Beal didn’t feel he needed the assistance, having already handled himself well in his one season at Florida. But he has found some comfort in returning from his 15-minute drive from Verizon Center to his apartment, and having someone around to watch game film or to play video games. They keep the place clean, make sure the refrigerator is stocked — and Beal is where he needs to be on time.
Brandon, 26, is a manager at an area gym and works most of the time, but he is around when the brothers go to the movies or eat at Hooters, Buffalo Wild Wings or Bradley’s personal favorite, Friday’s. Bruce is home most of the time, sometimes taking Bradley to practice or the airport.
When Bradley is on the road, he’ll often text Bruce pictures before making purchases, waiting for his approval.
“I can’t complain, honestly,” Beal said. “They don’t really want to shadow me or be a chaperon. They don’t want to crowd. They give me my personal space or whatever. We all figure we’re going to be fine on our own, but there are going to be times when you’re going to need help. I knew I just couldn’t sit here all day by myself. That would be terrible.”
Earlier this month, when the Nationals suffered a heartbreaking loss to his hometown St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, Beal wrote a congratulatory comment for the Cardinals on his Twitter account and caught an immediate backlash. A few upset Nationals fans made threats warning him to watch his back and asking if he could get traded. Beal shrugged off the reaction, but Bruce said the incident let him know “I was here for a reason.”
“I wouldn’t let anybody get that close to him,” Bruce Beal said. “I don’t see why it’s a problem for him to root for the Cardinals and he’s fresh out of St. Louis. He likes the Nationals. He bought a Nationals hat.”
Beal had never visited Washington before his workout last June but before leaving, Beal sat down with team President Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Randy Wittman and said, “I just hope you pick me.”
The Wizards likely will lean more on Beal at the start of the season, with John Wall and Nene both out with injuries. Beal was the Wizards’ third-leading scorer in the preseason, reaching double digits in his first six games, and averaged the most minutes.
“I don’t think there is as much pressure on him as me, because the team is already made before he got here and he’s another little piece that we needed,” said Wall, who spent some time with Beal during summer league in Las Vegas. “When I came here, it was like, the piece that was going to start everything. But I think if he was in the same position, he’d do well.”
Beal already has gone up against all-star talents such as Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen, Joe Johnson and Carmelo Anthony this preseason and said that he never felt nervous or afraid when he stepped on the floor.
“I have to compete against them. I want to try to be better than them,” Beal said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, I watched them.’ Now I’m at the same level they are at, playing in the same league, and I have to beat them and my team has to beat theirs. That’s how I think.”
Bobby Beal said he got teary-eyed last week when he looked on the court at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., and saw his son playing in a Wizards uniform for the first time. Bobby, Besta, Byron and Bryon drove in from St. Louis to offer some support and Besta couldn’t contain her excitement when Bradley finished the game with an emphatic dunk.
“It’s something we all dreamed about. It’s amazing,” Bobby Beal said.
Beal has developed an immediate affinity for his new home, even if he hasn’t completely settled in. As of last week, his apartment was undecorated and remained filled with boxes that have yet to be unpacked, as he prepares to move into a larger unit on a higher floor.
He had the essentials: a large flatscreen television, a stack of DVDs, an XBox and PlayStation III, a comfortable couch and beds for him and his brothers to rest their heads. Oh, and food in the refrigerator.
“That’s all you need: TV and a kitchen,” Beal said, without mentioning the obvious — his brothers.
“I’m the first one in my family to be a professional athlete, so I take that to heart and actually do it for them,” Beal said. “Because some of them were that close and didn’t make it and I feel that I do necessarily owe it to them, but I’m doing it for them. They are living through me, almost. My brothers are here, like I want them to experience what I’m experiencing.”