From professional basketball to public speaking, Adrian Branch stands out — quite literally — among the crowd. The 6-foot, 7-inch guard and forward starred at the University of Maryland from 1981 to 1985, where he led the Terrapins to an Athletic Coast Conference Championship.
Branch is the second all-time leading scorer at Maryland and was drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1985 by the Chicago Bulls. In 1987, Branch was a member of the league champion Los Angeles Lakers as a reserve player. He went on to play basketball overseas.
Since retiring from the NBA, Branch has worked as a motivational speaker with Sports World Ministries, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Young Life, Youth for Christ, Youth With A Mission, Athletes in Action and Sports Power International.
In 2004, Branch became a television color analyst for the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats, and he currently works for ESPN as a college basketball analyst. Branch recently visited Gunnison to deliver a message of positivity, during which the Times caught up with him. Following are excerpts from the interview.
What made you want to become a motivational speaker?
I guess I stumbled into it. All I knew was basketball, basketball, basketball. When I finished playing I was 32 years old and I wasn’t an electronics guy or builder. The thing I was most comfortable with, however, was counseling, so I went to the local school board in the Washington D.C. area and became a teacher assistant.
Then Bill Alexison, who is the chaplin for the Boston Celtics, asked if I wanted to be a motivational speaker. I told him all I know from all my years of schooling is two things — say no to drugs and keep your cool in the neighborhood pool. So I had to figure out my story, and since 1995 this is what I have been doing.
What message do you hope to convey to children?
Choices, choices, choices. You’re not born a winner or a loser, you’re born a chooser. My thing is just trying to encourage people that this world will tell you that you’re not tall enough, short enough, slim enough, trim enough, black enough, white enough, rich enough or poor enough.
What was it like to grow up around the end of the Civil Rights Movement?
My dad was an angry black man. He’s 80 now, but I stood on the shoulder of giants. My father taught me, “You ain't better than nobody and nobody is better than you, so just go out there and work hard.” So I was not afraid of men. I remember Malcolm X more than Martin Luther King Jr. because it was such upheaval.
We lived in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. It was the suburbs one mile across the Washington D.C. line. It was an all black neighborhood, but it was nice — people went to work, respected the property, no graffiti — but you were always aware that you lived in two cultures.
How did it feel to go from Maryland to the NBA?
I was a different type of dude. I was wired, even more than now. I was like, “Michael Jordan? Whatever, he’s a sucker.” To me basketball was like prize fighting. I’m going against you, you going against me. So I was wired for it. When I went to the Los Angeles Lakers, that was my team — Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — in the height of Showtime.
How did it feel to play alongside legends like Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar?
Coming from Seat Pleasant, Maryland, that was my dream team. They were professional (and) could monitor themselves. Pat Riley was a great leader of men. He inspired and over-facilitated. At the time, Kareem was 40 years old, and Riley inspired him to play for something beyond himself.
Magic was a coach on the floor. When something wasn’t going the right way, Magic would say let’s do it again. They had such a high standard of excellence, and as a 23-year-old rookie I told myself if I’m here one year or 10 years, let me learn everything I can from these guys. Those examples still resonate with me today.
What was it like being a color analyst for the Charlotte Bobcats?
It was cool, until Michael Jordan got there and fired me. Jordan came in had an old axe to grind. I got the MVP trophy over him in the East/West McDonald’s All-American game. Plus, when we were on the bus in Wichita, Kansas, with Chris Mullin and Patrick Ewing, I was making fun of him and my jokes were working that day. Jordan never forgot that and fired me when he became my boss.
How did you become a college basketball analysts for ESPN?
I saw two guys who were on the microphone who sounded like Evander Holyfield, so I called my cousin who had five Emmys with the CBS channel in the Washington D.C. area, and was like “I think I can do it.” So my cousin went to his bosses and at the time Maryland was winning.
In 2001, Maryland went to the Final Four, and in 2002 they won the championship. So the timing was perfect because Maryland would get players to spit out a 30-second sound bite. That little 30-second sound bite led to me working with ESPN.
I was only doing the media to get access to schools and churches. I didn’t think anything about the world of media or ESPN. My heart was in speaking, so I said, “If I’m on television, that is like a human business card.” I used that to be able to talk to children at schools, talk at churches and prisons.
(Brandon Warr can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)