WASHINGTON – Bradley Beal remains in a rather unusual position.
At 25, he is young enough to remember his High School days without reaching deep into the memory bank. Though his work career isn’t lengthy, his status as an All-Star guard for the Washington Wizards offers a true North Star for impressionable kids seeking direction. Beal is aware and doesn’t take his status for granted.
Locally, that means playing the mentor role for students at the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. Specifically, members of the varsity and JV basketball team from the District’s only all-male public school. The Wizards’ leading scorer adopted the school at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. He served as principal for a day in September. Last Thursday he took on a new job: Santa Claus.
Based on the all-smiles reaction from the more than two dozen young men opening gifts, Beal proved adept there as well.
The players didn't know Beal would join them on the court, let alone ply them with two different kinds of gifts: Boxes wrapped for the holiday season and words from an NBA player on what it means to be part of a team.
The reaction over the mystery gifts came immediately. The kids moved into a large common area, formed a circle and opened the boxes simultaneously. Each player received two pairs of shoes: Gold Air Jordan 1 Retro high tops, and purple and white Nike Hyperdunk X.
When an NBA player surprises you with Nike's for the holiday season.— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 20, 2018
Bradley Beal adopted basketball players at Ron Brown Preparatory High School this season. pic.twitter.com/RQeJjeO2eC
Beal clearly understood the target audience based on the loud kids-at-Christmas jumping around reaction.
“Kids these days, this generation, they love sneakers, they love shoes. That brightens their day, especially Jordan’s,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “They always want a pair of shoes they can hoop in. That’s a no-brainer. To be able to see that, I didn’t think they would react the way they did, honestly. I just thought they would be, ‘aww, this is cool.’. No, they were really appreciative.”
How or if the players embrace the other part of Beal’s gift comes down the line.
“Continue to work hard, continue to grind. You guys deserve these things,” Beal said before the players tore into the wrapping paper. “It’s not even about this. It’s about what you continue to do, your brotherhood. Continue to get better on the court, off the court, and continue to challenge each other. Push each other. Push the next man to be the next man he can possibly be.”
He addressed the varsity team wearing a purple “RB” hat while holding his nearly five-month-old son Bradley Beal II.
“You guys are brothers in here. This is a brotherhood that goes on for years. You guys will talk about this when you’re in college, after college. You’re always going to remember this flat out,” Beal said. “Every single day, let’s get better, let’s get better. Don’t take it for granted because you don’t get days back. Don’t waste a day, not one.”
Beal isn’t wasting his role model opportunity especially since such moments didn’t exist for him growing in St. Louis.
“It’s crazy. I never had an NBA player come talk to me,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “I never had an NBA player look my way besides (12-year veteran and fellow St. Louis native) David Lee. I went to his camp one time when I was younger, but that wasn’t the norm.”
Neither is this college preparatory school, which opened in 2016 and is similar to the Chaminade College Preparatory School Beal attended.
“I try to come around as much as possible, be a mentor. This is a school that’s brand new. These kids are blessed to come here. As a college prep school, it’s hard to come here. On top of that it [is part] of the public system, which is crazier because you don’t see that with the private school setting,” Beal said. “It’s amazing to see what they do here. The kids work tremendously hard. … They don’t have everything. They don’t come from everything.”
The setting gave Beal a chance to escape his duties as one of the Wizards’ leading men and put the focus on the community, his family. Still, it wasn’t easy filtering out Washington’s struggles this season as Beal spoke about not wasting a day and pushing teammates. He stood at the school hours after the Wizards returned home from a two-game road trip with vexing losses at Atlanta and Houston.
The connection wasn’t lost on the All-Star.
“Most definitely. If I’m struggling or the Wizards are struggling, I try to relate things I’m going with ways we can get better with other teams,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “This is the future of basketball. I’m not going to play this forever. (Wizards teammate) John (Wall) isn’t going to play forever. None of us are going to play forever. These kids are the future. If I can help in any way, I’m going to try to do it. These kids, my AAU team, high school kids back home, I’m going to try to reach out and impact as many times as possible.”