SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Bradley Beal was nicknamed “The Big Panda” for his ability to devour large meals.
“The Big Panda” was all smiles as he was enjoying an early Thanksgiving feast big enough for a family on this Nov. 13 afternoon. The Phoenix Suns guard most enjoyed his beloved sides of greens with crispy cuts of bacon, and macaroni and cheese with an appreciated crunchy top. Then suddenly, Beal’s mood hilariously changed when renowned chef Kenny Woods presented his Thanksgiving staple of cranberry sauce with a hint of ginger.
“The one thing about Brad, one thing about ‘The Panda,’ ‘The Panda’ do not eat cranberries,” Beal proclaimed from The Henry restaurant’s test kitchen near the Suns’ practice facility. “For those that eat cranberry sauce, keep that away from me. It’s going to be a fat, ‘No!,’ ”
The Beals — Bradley, his wife, Kamiah Adams-Beal, and three young sons, Bradley “Deuce” II, Braylen and Braxton — moved to Phoenix after the Wizards traded Beal to the Phoenix Suns in June. The St. Louis native acknowledged that he is joining his first true championship contender in his NBA career with fellow superstars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, and head coach Frank Vogel. The Suns have never won an NBA championship.
During the 2023-24 NBA season, Beal, 30, will be sharing insight into his life on and off the court in the Valley of the Sun and on the road during his monthly video and diary on Andscape. Draymond Green, Vince Carter, Trae Young, CJ McCollum, Fred VanVleet, De’Aaron Fox, Cade Cunningham, James Wiseman and Josh Jackson have participated in previous diaries. Beal missed the team’s first seven games with a lower back strain, then returned Nov. 8 for the first of three straight games before missing the Suns’ last four. He is averaging 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games, and talked to Andscape two days before he was sidelined again.
Below is Beal’s second diary installment, as told to Andscape senior NBA writer Marc J. Spears, in which he talks about the origin of his nickname “Big Panda,” his love for Thanksgiving, his back injury that delayed his debut, former teammate Kelly Oubre Jr. recently getting hit by a car, playing the Golden State Warriors tonight after missing their first matchup, his fight on the floor with Draymond Green in 2017 and how it turned into friendship, having his two oldest sons at the games and much more.
Everybody knows my nickname is ‘Big Panda.’ That came from one of my old [Washington] teammates, Eric Maynor. We were at a restaurant, and I cleared my plate. It looked [completely clean] when I was finished. And ever since then, he’s called me ‘Big Panda.’ Pandas are like silent assassins. They eat a lot of food, but nobody messes with a bear. A bear is still a bear. So, the name is stuck with me for a long time. And Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because I get to fulfill that nickname to its fullest.
Thanksgiving, to me, is one of my favorite holidays. Not only do you get to eat a lot of good food, but for me, it just allows you to get together with family, friends and just express just how grateful for their relationships, for things that they’ve done in your life, grateful for your faith, your spirit… It’s just a time to just come together and it’s just full of joy, full of happiness. It’s always a wonderful time of the year.
So, Thanksgiving and any holidays for us, we always spent them at my grandmother’s house. My mom’s mom. We all gather at [grandma’s] house – me, my four brothers, my cousins. And my grandma all put on the biggest feast you can possibly imagine. It was always just a fun time to just get back with family you haven’t seen in months and years. We always utilize that time and our holiday specifically to give back and just express our love and care and just joy for one another again.
Fast forward to now, all the holidays and Thanksgiving are spent in my house. All my brothers, my family, my parents, they all come to my house now. My wife and I, we became like the host more or less. So now, it’s kind of cool that we took over the tradition.
Our culture knows about greens. If you can cook greens, you’re doing something. Do I cook on Thanksgiving? No. My job is to eat. But I dibble and dabble if time is needed. I’m a big mac and cheese guy.
Getting the news that I’d be out Game 1, honestly, I just knew I was frustrated. It was one of those things where you pride yourself on your availability. We always say our availability is our best ability. It definitely takes a toll on you mentally because you build your body up to get yourself in shape, to get yourself to a place and start the year off strong. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that. But we were able to put a plan together and move forward and put this thing behind us and get back on track.
The season opener was tough for me just not being able to be on the floor. I injured my back working out with the team. And it was a frustrating time for sure because we built up the anxiety of the [season], the expectation of what the [season] will be and what the team is supposed to be. And it kind of got shot out the air a little bit. It was definitely a tough time, frustrating. I don’t even know how many games I was out – six games, seven games. But it’s been a learning experience, too, being able to learn my teammates, learn our system more. getting more acclimated, kind of visualizing where I could see myself on the team when I get back into the lineup… So, there a lot of positives I take out of it. I try not to beat myself up about. It was kind of out of everybody’s control.
My first game was in Chicago. Chicago is always fun. It’s always a joy. I love the City of Chicago. I love playing in their arena. They still play the championship Bulls’ them music during introductions. That still gives you chills when you go there. I have a lot of family in Chicago, too. So, for me it was like a big kind of a build-up game. But I felt super-excited just to be back on the floor. I was definitely winded. It was definitely fun to just be able to get back out on the floor and just get back to what I love to do and share with my guys.
What actually made it crazy was [Bulls center Nikola] Vucevic, in the first quarter, he came up to me said, ‘Man, you look weird in these colors.’ And I wasn’t really paying any mind to it. ‘What are you talking about?’ I look down at [my jersey]. It is a whole new thing, so I got to get used to it. But for me in a game I was locked in, that was a funny moment.
Not having our ‘Big 3’ to start the [season] is very tough. Everybody has their own expectations of what we can be and we have ours as well. We all pride ourselves on taking care of our bodies and being available. Devin and I, we haven’t even gotten the good end of the stick.
It’s a fine line as a fan of the game. Like 100 percent, you want to see Phoenix healthy. You want to see those guys out there competing. And you want to see what the hype is about. But internally, we have a totally different mindset. We’re not really worried about what people’s viewpoint of us is. But we also do know what we’re capable of and what we can be when we’re all healthy as well, too.
So just as well as everybody else wants us to get back right in the world, we’re just as excited, if not more. We want it to happen more than anybody. So, we’re all working diligently and effortlessly to make sure that happens. And it takes a village to get it done. So, we’re all pushing it in the right direction. Before you know it, we’re all going to be clicking. And when this thing is healthy and the train is rolling, we’re going to be steaming away.
My [two elder] boys love the game. It’s so crazy to just see how much they understand it day by day. Every day it’s something new. They want to learn something. They show me something that they taught themselves. It is definitely surreal to see. We have a routine where I go give them hugs before every game. They’re just super energetic. They’re motivated. And to me, that motivates me when I’m on the floor and it pushes me, too.
My kids are into football now. I love it. My wife hates it, but I love every second of it. It’s building some toughness in the Beal household. They want to tackle. They want to hit. They want to block. With my back, I have to watch what I do with the kids now and how I am around them. But let me tell you something, these kids don’t give a damn. They don’t really care about that. They are going to tackle me, beat me up and do whatever it takes to keep learning and do better. I can’t be mad at it. It’s a sacrifice in their lives. Hopefully, one day I got some first-round draft picks.
I just have fun and have a joy when I’m out there because we get lost in that as NBA players sometimes in the business part of it, the winning side of it, of being perfect, of being elite. We just lose sight of why we played when we were kids, when we were five and six, seven years old. That’s because the game was fun. You got to play with your peers. You got to play with your siblings. And seeing my boys on the baseline is always a reminder to me to have fun in the game, enjoy it.
The other day, someone told me something tragic about what happened to Kelly Oubre being hit by a car or something in Philadelphia. And that’s my little brother and that definitely hit home. Super unfortunate to hear. You try not to think of the worst. It’s a blessing that he’s okay and he’s out of the hospital. But it’s just a so it’s tough, man, because it brings you back to life. It helps you realize that you’re a human being.
As much as we are NBA players and celebrities and people of status and mentors, you’re still a human being on this Earth. You’re still a citizen of the U.S. that walks the streets just like everybody else. They drive cars just like everybody else. And it’s just unfortunate. Bad timing. You never know the in-depth story of it, but I never wish that on anybody. And I’m praying for him and his family and his babies and that he’s okay. He’s a soldier mentally, so I know he’ll come out on the other side of it on top.
Right now, I’m completely off social media. It’s a personal decision… Being off social [media], this is a little cleanse, man. Social [media] has gotten to a point where it’s a little too negative in our world. We’re very quick to judge people. We’re very quick to put somebody else down. We’re very quick to have an opinion on something. And it’s not a lot of support. It’s not a lot of encouragement.
Over the last year and a half, I’ve distanced myself from it. I understand the fan aspect of it and having that relationship with fans and keeping up with your friends you don’t get to see often. But [my absence] is like a cleanse. It can be a distraction. Too negative. And so, for me, it’s just like a way to clear your mind of all of that and get back to what society was like before that. It forces me to spend more time with my family, forces me to do the things I was supposed to do instead of procrastinating. Social was a big distraction. I’ll be back soon. I don’t know when, but I kind of like not being on it.
Playing Golden State is always fun. When you play teams of that caliber, they always just bring out the best of you. Steph [Curry], Klay [Thompson], Draymond [Green], for them to still be rocking the way they are, 12-plus years is amazing to see. They are just natural competitors in their own state. They want to win every single time they touch the floor. So, it just brings the best out of everybody. Them having Chris [Paul] now adds a little bit more fuel to the fire, too. I’m looking forward to when I have that opportunity to get out there.
Everybody always asks, ‘Brad, are you and Draymond cool?’ Draymond and I are damn near best friends. That moment in the  game was definitely immature on my behalf because I got frustrated at some things he was saying and doing in the game. But nonetheless it was a respect thing from him because he knew I wasn’t no punk and I wasn’t backing down from him. We were cool after that situation. I respected him. He respected me. And every time we’ve seen each other, it was nothing but laughs, hugs. We go on vacation together now. Our wives are cool. And we’re in the same draft class so it’s always been love with. He’s super competitive when we are playing the game. And rightfully so it should be that way.
We’re going to need an X-rated film for [his trash-talking]. Anything Draymond say we got to have to blurt it out. He can’t go two words without cussing.
James [Harden] coming to the West again was a move we all seen coming. We didn’t think it would happen, but it happened. It’s obviously a huge move for their team and organization. And four Hall of Famers on one team, four guys who can really go after it and compete on a nightly basis, it is going to be a tough battle in the West and I’m looking forward to it.
My family has really enjoyed being in Phoenix and with the Suns. One of the best things about Phoenix this time of year is 85-degree weather in November. We were just in Chicago, Detroit and Philly where it was freezing cold. It took me back to my old Washington days, just knowing what the East Coast weather, wind and what that cold was like. I don’t miss it. Getting off the plane at one in the morning and it was 85, it was the best feeling in the world. And I understood what everybody was talking about back in July… There’s nothing like it. So yes, you should be jealous.
Thanksgiving wishes. Show your love to those out there who you don’t do it to often. Life is very short. I lost my grandmother two years ago and there is not a day that goes by where this holiday season doesn’t make us miss her that much more. Love on your family. Love on your friends. More than anything, just enjoy life. It’s very short. Ups, downs, good, bad, enjoy every single moment of it. Embrace it. And love, love, love. The world needs love.