Despite Bradley Beal's career year, it's been a forgettable season on the hardwood for the Wizards. But Beal's impact off the floor this year may well have a far more lasting impression.
Bradley Beal has become the Wizards’ lone star this spring, with John Wall out for the year and Otto Porter traded to help free up payroll for the future. Beal’s on pace to set career highs in nearly every major statistical category, and in the 31 games since Wall’s injury, he’s averaged 28.4 points, 6.5 assists and 5.6 rebounds while playing nearly 39 minutes a game.
But perhaps his biggest impact in D.C. this year, in a season almost certain to end without a playoff appearance, has come off the court.
Always looking for a different way to make an impact each season he spends in the District, Beal worked with Sashia Jones, Wizards VP of Community Relations, before the season to develop the idea of adopting a school.
“We both kind of came up with the idea,” Beal told WTOP after a recent Wizards practice. “We thought it would be pretty cool to take in a high school and kind of mentor them.”
Ron Brown College Preparatory High School stood out immediately for several reasons.
It’s still new, just in its third year of operation; there isn’t even a senior class yet. It’s a college prep school, like Chaminade College Prep in St. Louis, which Beal attended, albeit a public one. And it’s an all-boys school, just like Chaminade, which presents its own set of challenges.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Beal said. “It meshed well for me. It’s a good group of kids who live in the inner city, and you know they have a great opportunity in front of them, I just want to try to help them take advantage of it.”
Much has been written about the 25-year-old Beal becoming a father this year, but he doesn’t attribute that or any other life change for his desire to help provide guidance and mentorship for young men of color. He understands that his own middle-class upbringing, much less the one his son will experience, can’t compare on many levels.
“I was never a guy who couldn’t afford everything,” he said. “My parents were decent. We didn’t have everything, but we made things work for what we had. But a lot of these kids don’t have any of that. So if it’s five minutes, five seconds, it means the world to them. And I think just having that type of impact just continues to motivate me in just wanting to do more for them.”
But adopting a school means more than a simple courtesy appearance to shake some hands and take some photos. Showing up once was one thing — anybody can show up once. It was when Beal returned the second time to the school that student Makhi Daye realized this was more than a simple photo op.
“When he first came here, I was like, ‘OK, this is going to be one-time thing, then he’s going to come and then leave,’” said Daye, a freshman student and JV basketball player with aspirations of working in the sports industry. “But when he came back, and gave us shoes, and doing interviews and stuff, talking to us off the camera. I think he actually cared about giving back and not just doing it for the public to see.”
Fellow Rob Brown student and JV basketball teammate, sophomore Mekhi Turner pointed to Beal’s efforts as “principal for a day.” Again, it’s the kind of idea that can come off contrived and phony if there’s no honest effort behind it. But Beal’s commitment to the role left an impression.
“He just walked around and tried to get a sense of the environment of Ron Brown, of the culture,” said Turner. “Most people wouldn’t do that — they kind of pop their heads in, see what’s up, and then they leave. But he was walking around, going to classes, seeing what was going on in the classes, making sure everybody was cool, talking to all the kids that were in the hallway, making sure that everybody got to where they needed to be like a regular principal would do.”
Beal’s conversations and mentorship continues outside of the public appearances. Social media offers him the chance to stay in touch in the weeks and months between events.
“Kids DM me, kids talk to me, tweet me all the time, and I tell them I’ll respond and try to get back to them as quickly as possible,” Beal said. “But I definitely stay in contact with them. I’m not a guy who just shows face.”
Beal’s donated shoes to the basketball team and worked with them on drills in the gym. He’s taken individuals under his wing, checking in on them, calling them by their nicknames in practice. But the biggest impression he’s left with them is that of just a normal guy who cares.
“Usually with an athlete, you might see they smile for the camera, or they’re a certain way around kids, or at certain events,” Turner said. “But for him, he’s the same way that you see him on TV, or in an interview that you see in real life, or if you have an experience with him. It’s a real chill, down- to-earth person who you can just have a real conversation with.”
Beal’s most recent outing with the Ron Brown students came at the end of February, as they visited the African American Museum of History and Culture. For all the differences of his upbringing and that of his son from the students, he wanted them to understand the history they share, even if he wishes such occasions weren’t pegged to just one month on the calendar.
“It’s just a moment for me to get everybody together, me being around the kids more for a few hours, talk with them, and we just all learn about our history, all learn where we came from, all learn how much further we have to go, the sacrifices our ancestors have made, our families have made, and see how far we came today,” he said.
“Like, I kind of hate the fact that we do have Black History Month. Black history is American history.”
Beal doesn’t see any of this as his obligation as a professional athlete, or as some part he’s supposed to play based on anyone else’s ideas of responsibility. And while it works for him, he said that if other pro athletes are trying to figure out how they can give back, it’s all about finding what makes sense for them.
“This was what makes me happy, what brings me joy,” he said. “What I eat won’t make you fat. You’ve gotta find something that’s near and dear to your heart, that you have passion for, and go after it.”
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