Bradley Beal takes pride in his commitment to winning in Washington — Andscape
There was a celebrity fan sitting courtside at Game 4 of the NBA Finals yelling tips to Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum and his teammates. It certainly drew the attention of the Golden State Warriors as they were very familiar with this fan trying to help his childhood friend from St. Louis.
While Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal truly enjoyed the competition and pageantry of attending his first Finals game, he was also emotionally crushed that he has never come close to being in a Finals game during 10 seasons with the Washington Wizards.
“I was sitting with my wife, and I was like telling [Tatum] just like, ‘No, guard him, guard him,’ like I’m on the team,” Beal told Andscape. “Man, I got to chill. But just the atmosphere, as a competitor, you’re like, ‘Yo, I want to be a part of this. I want to hoop on this stage.’ So that, there was nothing like it. I’d have drove myself mad if I’d have went to more than one game.
“But I talked to Jayson after the game, saw his family, saw a few of the guys after the game on both sides. It’s amazing, man, just to see how locked in they are. They’re appreciative of the support and obviously us coming to support them. But to just see them at that level, especially Golden State, man, they’ve been doing it at the highest level for a long time. But then to see the competitive nature of the game, I got to get there.”
Beal is a three-time NBA All-Star who has been a dominant scorer during his career with an average of 22.1 points per game. The 29-year-old is currently in the prime of his NBA career averaging 23.1 points per game this season. Since being selected with the third overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft by Washington, the franchise has been to the playoffs five times but has never advanced to the conference finals. Washington hasn’t been to the conference finals since 1979 when the then-Washington Bullets lost to the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals.
For Beal and the Wizards this season, there is no realistic Finals talk as the hope is to make the postseason. The rising Wizards (28-30), however, entered the NBA All-Star break in the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference standings after winning 10 of their last 14 games with a now healthy Beal, forward Kyle Kuzma and center Kristaps Porzingis leading the way. Beal has missed 22 of 58 games this season but went into the All-Star break having scored at least 30 points in three of the last four games.
“We’re still learning each other, but now we feel like we can take off running,” Beal said after the Wizards overcame a 20-point deficit to beat the host Minnesota Timberwolves 114-106 on Feb. 16.
Beal is currently in second place on Washington’s all-time scoring list (15,061 points) behind Hall of Famer Elvin Hayes (15,551). The 2021 All-NBA selection is also well known for his charity work in Washington and St. Louis, and for his passion in the fight for social justice.
“Bradley has been exemplary on and off the floor throughout his Wizards career,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said. “He has been loyal to the franchise, cares deeply about winning and will do whatever the team needs him to do [whether it’s] leading us in scoring or assists, defending the perimeter, sacrificing shots. [Beal], Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis have blended well together this season.”
The following is a Q&A with Beal as he talks more about attending the NBA Finals, his legacy in Washington, missing the 2020 Tokyo Games after failing a COVID-19 test, watching tennis star and friend Francis Tiafoe at the 2022 US Open, the social justice movement for NBA players and much more.
How much did seeing the NBA Finals in person inspire you?
A lot. It is pure motivation to get there at that stage. Everybody dreams of that, and only one team can take it home. But to be in that environment, to say that you’ve been there, man, nobody can take that away from you. That’s something you always dream about, so that’s my goal, is to get there.
Did you feel the same way watching several of Francis Tiafoe’s matches at the US Open?
I have a huge respect for individual sport players, because they’re focused with their mindset and especially being in a big arena stadium where nobody can say anything, it’s superquiet. It’s just you locked in with the other opponent, and you’re going hard for five hours potentially. So, that brings out the competitive nature in you and pushes you to continue to work, continue to build and get in the gym.
How much happier will you be to be a part of an NBA championship stage with people watching you? Would you say that’s the only thing you’re missing?
I feel like I’ve accomplished a good amount of my career. I’ve been an All-Star, been All-NBA, averaged 30 in the league. It’s just, ‘OK, what can I do now? What do you want to do?’ Win, win, win, win, win at the highest level, play in meaningful games, win multiple playoff series, get to the Finals, win a Finals. That’s what I want to do. That’s the goal.
How’s your health?
It’s good, back healthy finally, need to stay that way.
You had a chance to win a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but didn’t join the team in Japan after being placed in health and safety protocols. How do you reflect on that?
It’s something that’s out of your control. Obviously, in hindsight, I wish I would’ve got the vaccine. I wish I’d have had it at the time because I could’ve avoided all that. But everything happens for a reason. Again, I’m proud of the opportunity. I could come again in another year, so it’s not like it’s out of reach, or I won’t have another opportunity at it. So, I’m definitely excited about it. I was happy to be a part of the team with a great group of guys. Coach [Steve] Kerr, Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich], everybody was awesome. And just to still have that relationship with them today is cool.
Was it hard to watch that too?
Hell, yeah. I’ve been a part of USA Basketball since I was 14, 15 years old. And when you’re that age, they always tell you that one day [you will be] on the national team, representing everybody at that stage. I had that opportunity and hopefully I’ll have it again. But it was definitely hard to watch. It was hard to watch, for sure.
So, you do want to play for USA Basketball again?
Yeah, 100%, 100%.
Do the Wizards have a team that can compete in the NBA at a high level?
We can compete. Are we going to hoist the Larry [O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy]? We’re making steps to compete, and we’re doing it on a nightly basis. Shepp [Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard] is making moves to improve the team. So, all I can do is sit back, trust him, trust his process, work with what we are working with. It’s not easy. The grass isn’t always greener. I understand that when you give up, hell, if I go somewhere [else], you’re giving up a lot. So, that factors into a lot of stuff, too. So obviously you try to put yourself in the best situation possible for yourself and your family. We’re trying to build on it. We’re trying to do that here.
What do you think about becoming the franchise all-time leading scorer?
It’s in reach. I can knock that out this season if I want. It’s something I never thought about, something I’m not like I’m going to go get it. It just happened, but I think that definitely it would be an awesome accomplishment for sure.
Do you ever think about your jersey one day being retired with Washington like Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson, Wes Unseld, and Phil Chenier?
Yeah, sometimes, but those guys won. They won a championship . They brought that to the city, and that’s something I want. Obviously, I’ve done a lot in this organization. But at the same time, nothing is bigger than winning a ‘ship. So, if I can do that, it tops everything.
Where is your patience level with winning in Washington?
I’m patient, but there comes a time where you have to be a little selfish and draw a line in the sand, for sure. So, I have thoughts in my head but at the same time I stay in the moment. I stay engaged with what we have and what we do and don’t get caught up in noise and just go from there, take it a day at a time, control what I can control.
Have you ever talked to players like Damian Lillard or Stephen Curry who, like you, have only played for one franchise, or former stars who only played for one franchise about potentially being in one place your entire career?
We all think the same. It’s just our commitment to want to win where we’re at, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. We’re just trusting the organizations that drafted us. They put that trust in us. They continue to invest in us, and we’re just trying to pay that back. We’re trying to give them our all that we possibly can, and I love it, man. I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with it. I take pride in that.
What do you even think about your legacy with Washington?
It doesn’t really hit me, honestly. I just continue see how I can continue to be better, how I can improve my game. And my legacy, I always say, ‘It’s the impact I leave on people.’ Obviously, my game speaks for itself. But I want my legacy to be a lasting impact that I leave on a person, the fans, teammates, coaches, everybody. ‘How was I? Was I a great teammate? Was I competitive? Did I help you? Did I push you?’ That’s what I want my legacy to be based off of.
The social justice movement in the NBA was at a very high point after the murder of George Floyd in 2020. You peacefully protested in Washington, D.C. Do you think since the NBA bubble that players are still strongly committed to pushing for social justice and equality?
We’re still committed, but I think we obviously have to figure out what’s next. Because there’s something always ongoing, you know it’s never stopping. And it’s sad, our world has so many problems. You can’t just put your finger on one thing and solve everything or think you’re going to have all the answers to it. And it’s frustrating, because you see this police brutality is still going on, and that’s frustrating. And then to see it from your own [Black men] is even more frustrating, to that point. And it just brings just a broader spectrum of just the history of the police force in itself.
Regardless of race, regardless of color, that’s what they do. And that’s not fair to us. It’s not fair to anybody who has to endure it. And there’s just so many problems. We got over 100, 200 mass shootings already, and we ain’t even started 2023 yet. It’s a sick world we’re living in. There’s so much we got to tap into. Man, we’re working on it collectively, but it’s going to take some time. That’s for sure.