ORLANDO, Fla. — Scott Brooks always dreamed of being an NBA All-Star, even when only one other person believed in his dream.
That person was his mother, Lee.
“She didn't tell me I was going to be an All-Star coach,” Brooks joked. “I thought I was going to be a player all this time.”
All that matters now is he's made it.
After guiding the Oklahoma City Thunder to the best record in the Western Conference, Brooks will coach the West All-Stars in Sunday's 61st NBA All-Star Game at Amway Center in Orlando.
The things that got Brooks here were his unadulterated love for the game, his mother's undying support, his commitment to his craft and, of course, the GM who took a chance on his unproven coaching ability.
When Brooks is announced as the man who will captain 12 of the conference's biggest stars — including Thunder players Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — it will serve as his one shining moment, a scene that will best illustrate how Oklahoma City's coach has grown up with his talented young team.
Three years ago, Brooks was an interim coach battling the league's most brutal forces: middling talent, mounting losses and mounds of frustration. Now, he'll bask in the spotlight of being the conference's best coach at the break.
“It's not something that you go into the season having as one of your goals,” Brooks said. “But it's a great honor for the organization, because everybody is a part of what we do here.”
Toughness and pride
Scott Brooks still remembers his mother breaking her back to provide.
Lee was a prideful woman. Her family was on government aid for a time, but by the time Brooks was about 7, she had grown tired of relying on what she considered a handout.
As a single mother of seven, four boys and three girls, Lee began working seven days a week. She worked in a plant, rebuilding used automotive parts. The tin factory that housed the laborers would exceed 100 degrees in the summertime.
On weekends, Lee secured additional income by rounding up her children, Brooks being the youngest, and taking the family to pick walnuts and top onions.
Brooks can't recall his mother missing a single day of work.
“Seeing that instilled toughness and pride,” Brooks said. “It made me realize I better make something out of my life, because I don't want to see her do this the rest of her life. So from seventh grade on, I told myself I was going to be an NBA player.”
It became Brooks' single focus — against all odds.
As a freshman at East Union High School in Manteca, Calif., Brooks stood 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 98 pounds.
“And she still thought I was going to make the NBA,” Brooks said of his mother.
Brooks quickly adopted the discipline he saw in his mother. After Brooks' father ditched the family when he was 2, Brooks' high school coach, Bill Stricker, became a father figure. Stricker would soon become the second and only other person to ever believe Brooks could make it to the NBA.
Stricker, who now visits Brooks in Oklahoma City at least once a year, pushed Brooks to be all he could be. Stricker, though, didn't have to push hard.
“He's always been the kind of guy that whatever needed to be done he'd get it done,” Stricker said. “It wasn't about him. It was about the team. I wish I would have filmed my high school practices to show how hard a guy could work for two hours.”
That work ethic helped Brooks carve out a 10-year NBA career that laid the foundation for his future as a coach.
Soaking up knowledge
To this day, Brooks can't explain why Jim Lynam gave him a chance.
But when the former Philadelphia 76ers coach stuck his neck out for the undrafted 5-foot-11 point guard out of UC Irvine in 1988, Brooks wasn't about to blow it.
“I wasn't sure how long I would be in the NBA,” Brooks said. “Every player hopes for a 10-year career. But my first year, I knew that this is where I wanted to be. I wanted to coach at this level.”
Brooks became a sponge. He soaked up every shred of information he could get. Along his journey, Brooks played for coaches such as Bill Musselman, Rudy Tomjanovich, Dick Motta, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Fratello. But Brooks leaned even more on assistant coaches and video coordinators, scouts and support staff.
“I tried to pick those guys' brains,” Brooks said. “I spent a lot of time watching and listening and taking notes.”
After averaging 4.9 points and 2.4 assists in 680 career games, Brooks' playing career in the NBA came to an end when the Los Angeles Clippers released him in the 1999 preseason. He broke into NBA coaching in 2003 as an assistant under Denver coach Jeff Bzdelik.
When Bzdelik was fired midway through the 2004-05 season, George Karl took over. Within a month, Karl knew Brooks had the makings of a head coach.
“I knew he wanted to pull the triggers. He wanted that challenge someday,” Karl said. “A lot of the assistant coaches say they do. But deep down inside they don't. They might want the paycheck, but they might not want the pain to go with it.
“But Scotty was very obvious. He wanted to be on that stage. And I think a lot of it was his upbringing of being a competitor and being disciplined from the standpoint of being a point guard. And being a guy who kind of had to be an overachiever to be successful. Scotty wasn't out there because of his skill set. He was out there because of his attitude and because of his brain and his intensity.”
Thrown into the fire
Sam Presti stopped Brooks just before he was about to board the team plane.
It was Nov. 21, 2008.
Presti, the Thunder general manager, had just fired coach P.J. Carlesimo after an embarrassing 25-point home loss to New Orleans dropped the team to 1-12.
Presti was naming Brooks interim coach.
“He said, ‘We had a tough decision to make tonight. We had to let P.J. go. You will be coaching the team on an interim basis. I'll give you more information when you land,'” Brooks remembered.
In all his groundwork, Brooks had never prepared for this moment. He had always assumed his first job would come in the summertime, not in midseason and certainly not at the expense of a good friend. It was Carlesimo who hired Brooks as an assistant, even after Brooks had interviewed with Presti for the head coaching job while the team was in Seattle in 2007.
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A look at Scott Brooks' coaching record since taking over the Thunder.
SEASON, RECORD, W/L%, PLAYOFFS
2008-09, 22-47, .319, DNQ
2009-10, 50-32, .610, Lost first round
2010-11, 55-27, .671, Lost conference finals
2011-12, 27-7, .794, ?