James Harden was one day away from returning to Oklahoma City to face his former teammates. Predictably, every Thunder player was insisting it was “just another game,” that no special feelings were involved.
Not coach Scott Brooks.
“No, it's not another game,” Brooks said with conviction, piquing the interest of unsuspecting reporters who thought they were destined for a “just another game” quote.
Brooks hesitated slightly, like a point guard about to execute a crossover move, and then continued. “They traded me in the second championship year (1994-95),” Brooks began as the media contingent quickly learned he was up to his old tricks. “It took me five years to get over (Rockets coach) Rudy Tomjanovich. Now, we're best buddies. But, yeah, it's still personal.”
A smile crept on Brooks' face before he finished himself off with one final self-deprecating swipe. “That was the truth many years ago, but I wasn't really good enough to say, ‘Oh, I'm going to really go at 'em next time we play,' ” Brooks said.
When used properly, humor can be completely disarming. It can breathe life into exhausted players and make critics readjust their bearings.
Since the NBA's territorial draft ended in 1965, only 37 undrafted players have been good enough to play in the league for 10-plus seasons. Scott William Brooks is one of those players, going unselected in the 1987 NBA Draft, even though it lasted seven rounds (161 picks).
“Whenever anybody asks, I tell them I was picked in the third round,” said Brooks, who indeed was drafted in the third round of that year's Continental Basketball Association draft.
Even though Brooks' career achievement in the NBA puts him in the top 1 percent of anyone who has ever played the game, he still pokes fun at himself.
What makes this self-deprecation so effective are Brooks' qualifications. He seemingly has experienced everything possible in the NBA during the past quarter century.
As a player: Brooks went undrafted; started out in the CBA; was traded four times (once at halftime of a game), signed as a free agent three times and waived twice; was traded from a good team (Philadelphia) to a bad team (Minnesota) to a great team (Houston) to a bad team (Dallas) to a good team (New York); spent five days with the famed Boston Celtics before being waived; suffered a knee injury that ended his NBA career; and played his final season in the semipro rekindling of the ABA.
As a coach: Brooks was as an assistant and head coach in the ABA; returned to the NBA to become an assistant with Denver, Sacramento and a Seattle franchise that relocated to Oklahoma City; served as interim head coach for 69 games before finally having the title removed; and in just three full seasons as the Thunder's coach has won two division titles, a conference crown and was named NBA Coach of the Year.
SCOTT AND THE SUPERSTAR
Brooks played collegiately for one season at TCU, transferred to San Joaquin Delta College (in Stockton, Calif.) for one season and played his final two seasons with UC-Irvine, where he would become the best pro player in school history.
As a 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior, Brooks averaged 23.8 points and shot 43.2 percent from 3-point range. On a night the school opened its new events center, Brooks poured in 43 points against Utah State. When he faced Pacific, the school 10 miles from his mother's house that refused to offer him a scholarship, Brooks scored 41.
Brooks reportedly made $3,417,500 as an NBA player, considerably less than he'll make with the four-year deal worth $16-$18 million he signed last July to remain Thunder coach.
It took three-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant ($16.7 million salary) just 17 games this season to match Brooks' career player earnings, but the guy who stands one foot shorter is the one calling the shots for a player on the cusp of becoming the league's Most Valuable Player.
“He's quick to say something to anybody if we mess up — miss a rotation, if we're playing as hard as he wants us to play,” Durant said of Brooks. “He's not afraid. He's a great guy to lead us.”
Wise well beyond his 24 years, Durant is fully aware sometimes Brooks manufactures criticism in an attempt to prove Durant is not above reproach.
“He's got a quick trigger on me,” Durant said with a smile. “He came in (the other day), looked at me for 10 seconds and said, ‘KD, get a haircut.' ”
The main differences between Brooks and Durant? “He's a little bit more boring than I am,” Durant said.
When Durant was quick to sign a five-year extension with the Thunder in the summer of 2010, part of the reason was Brooks.
“We really click, man,” Durant said. “He's family. I consider him part of my family. He's helped me so much since I came into this league, even my rookie year when he wasn't the head coach (at Seattle). He gave me encouragement every single day. He saw the potential in me. He believed in me. It's very important that we have a very good relationship, which we do and it's getting better every single day. We can laugh and joke at each other, too.”
Durant said one reason he appreciates Brooks' sense of humor is he never makes himself the center of attention.
“Naw, never,” Durant said. “He's the most humble guy I've ever been around, never gives credit to himself. Whenever he makes great adjustments and puts us in great position to win, he always says it's because of us. We know without him we wouldn't be able to win a game, or have a good stretch, or (have a winning) month. He does so much for us, man. He's always humble about it and we really respect that about him.”
SCOTT AND RUDY T
It was the 1994-95 season and if Brooks wasn't going to get any playing time with the defending world champion Houston Rockets, he wanted to be traded to a place where there were minutes.
At least that's what Tomjanovich thought when the Rockets traded Brooks to the Dallas Mavericks at halftime of a home game against the Detroit Pistons the night of the league's trade deadline on Feb. 23, 1995.