When Scott Brooks walks into the gym at St. Elizabeths Arena to catch a Capital City Go-Go game, the players can't help but notice. The building also houses the Wizards' practice facility where Brooks has an office and he is often around at tipoff. So, he makes the short walk over to catch a glimpse of the team's G-League affiliate.
Naturally, he is easy to spot.
"One of our assistants or a player, they'll say something," guard Chasson Randle said. "You've always gotta be on your A-game. When you see him in the stands, though, it's a little bit more motivation for sure."
"They can literally just walk down the stairs from their office and go through a door and be at our game," guard Chris Chiozza said of Wizards' brass. "It just adds a little more fire to have a good game."
Brooks knows the feeling. He was once a minor league basketball player chasing the NBA dream.
After graduating from U.C. Irvine in 1987, he spent time with the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association and then with the Fresno Flames of the World Basketball League (which oddly featured a 6-foot-4 height restriction) before catching on with the Sixers in 1988.
Brooks himself can recall what it was like to be on a minor league team when someone from the NBA was in attendance.
"I just remember that our coach would say 'there are scouts here,'" Brooks told NBC Sports Washington. "When you're in the minor leagues, your goal is to be in the majors. You want to be in the NBA. You know it can take just one coach or one scout to give you that opportunity. So, when I go watch our Go-Go play, I take it seriously because I was in that position."
So, what exactly does Brooks look for? Some of it can't be found in the box score.
Brooks looks for intangibles.
"In reality, they're not all going to be NBA players, but out of respect for the game you've gotta give them an opportunity to be an NBA player," he said.
"I don't even look at their scoring because if they become an NBA player, they're not going to come in and score a bunch of points. Are they being good teammates? Are they helping their teammates off the floor? Are they pointing at them after a good pass? Are they high-fiving them? Are they making eye contact with their coach? I think those are way more important than somebody making a bunch of shots."
Brooks understands that may be counter-intuitive to some players, but he knows what it takes to not just get the chance to play in the NBA, but stay there. Brooks ended up playing 10 NBA seasons with six different teams and won a championship with the Rockets in 1994.
None of it came easy. Brooks got his first NBA gig after a tryout in the Loyola-Marymount Summer League in Los Angeles back in 1988. He borrowed $400 from a booster at Irvine.
"I don't even know if that was legal at that time," he joked.
The games were early in the morning and, listed at 5-foot-11, he played small forward. Brooks was on a team of free agents that faced NBA players and he was told there would be many scouts in attendance.
"All that were in the stands were your girlfriend and your parents," he said.
But the Sixers saw him and gave him an NBA contract. From there, he never looked back.
"I had my 1-800 calling card that my mom paid for when I was 22- or 23-years-old. They thought somebody stole it because I called so many people that night I was told I made the 76ers. It was one of the best days of my life," Brooks said.
As Brooks tells it, even his early days in the NBA were rough compared to the accommodations now provided to the Wizards' G-League team. He may have been earning an NBA salary playing for the Sixers, but he had to wash his own jersey. He also had to wash the uniforms of veteran teammates.
"There were many times where I kept my jersey on [in the shower]. I shampooed my hair and I shampooed my jersey at the same time. You ring it out, you dry it. I was Maurice Cheeks' rookie and I had to take care of his jersey as well," he said.
But in the minor leagues, it was worse. Brooks was fresh out of college and wasn't yet an expert at doing laundry.
"We wore things multiple days without washing them," Brooks said. "When you're young and hungry, you knew better, but you had no other choice. You did whatever it took to get on the court and play well and impress the scouts."
Go-Go players have equipment managers to wash their jerseys. They also have a well-rounded staff of coaches and player development assistants. One of their best perks is food provided by the team and a designated eating area at St. E's. Not all G-League teams get those benefits.
Well, it's not that glamorous. The Go-Go do their air travel through BWI, roughly an hour from their home base in Ward 8. That has led to some John Candy and Steve Martin-like adventures.
For instance, when they played the Windy City Bulls in December, they had to bus an hour from the Sears Centre in Illinois to Midway Airport, fly to BWI and then leave for Washington on a bus from Baltimore at 1 a.m. That's a far cry from the charter jets some players enjoyed at big-time college programs, like Chiozza at the University of Florida.
Sometimes an NBA call-up will require Go-Go general manager Pops Mensah-Bonsu to drive players late at night to airports for flights back to Washington because the rental car is registered in his name.
But, as Brooks can attest, it's all worth it. Finally realizing the NBA dream makes you appreciate the steps it took to get there.
Brooks did it and Randle, after spending much of this season in the G-League, now has a guaranteed NBA contract.
"I love stories like that," Brooks said of Randle, who like him went undrafted. "It's definitely earned. Nothing was ever given to him."
For others, the journey continues.
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