Brad Daugherty – The Shrubs Are My Brothers

Every now and then a hint of the coiled spring deep within the man once labeled soft and passive pops up.

A swing at Detroit Piston Bill Lambier in January of 1989, after being elbowed in the throat.

A somewhat alarming pronouncement regarding NASCAR:

Brad Daugherty admitted that he “likes to see the violence”, to which Suzy [Kolber] added, “everyone wants to see it!”

More than once.

“I just love the sport,” Daugherty says of racing. “I love the smell, I love the color, I love the violence, I love everything involved.”

Early on, no one guessed Brad would someday be hailed by the Boston Globe as:

[e]nter[ing] the realm of Hakeem Olajuwon, Pat Ewing, David Robinson, Robert Parish and other elite big men. (Source: The Boston Globe, May 2, 1992)

Growing up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, with brothers 5 and 10 years older who played on the high school basketball team while Brad was still in grade school, Brad was determined to catch up. He and his brothers:

[…] played on a dirt court in back of their house. The basket, only 81/2 feet high, was nailed to an old oak tree. When his brothers weren’t around, Brad played there alone and worked on his dribbling, shooting, and rebounding.

“It really wasn’t much of a court, “ said Brad. “The yard had been beaten down so much by our playing on it that it was just dirt. There were a lot of bushes, shrubs, and small trees in the yard, so I pretended they were other players. I practiced dribbling around the tress, shooting over the shrubs, and going one-on –one with the bushes.”

[…]  Sometimes he pretended the bushes were his older brothers, Steve and Greg. … Other times, he imagined he was leading the University of North Carolina Tar Heels to victory in the Final Four against the arch-rival Duke Blue Devils.  (Source: Little Basketball Big Leaguers by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, 1991, Nash and Zullo Productions, Inc; Simon & Schuster)

During his sixth grade year, Brad’s brothers relented, letting Brad play in real games unwittingly helping to form Brad’s passing game, for which he would later become famous:

[…] Brad stood 5 feet, 9 inches tall. Steve and Greg decided he was now big enough to play in the neighborhood games-as long as he played by their rules.

“They said they wouldn’t rough me up anymore if I passed them the ball while they shot,” laughed Brad. “So I spend most of my time passing trying to hit them when they were open so they could score. That was really the only way they’d let me play. If I started shooting too much, or tried dribbling around, they’d make me quit. The way they made me play helped me develop good court awareness at a young age. I was right there in the middle of the action against bigger and older guys, but I still had to find the open man.”  (Source: Little Basketball Big Leaguers by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo, 1991, Nash and Zullo Productions, Inc; Simon & Schuster)

Brad continued to grow and when he graduated Charles D. Owen High School at age 16, after skipping 8th grade, the shrubs became fellow Tar Heels. Freshman year was hard on everybody:

At 16 he [Brad] was the youngest player ever to appear in an ACC game, and in imminent danger of having the shortest career in league history.

“I used to get tired of all that harping on my age,” he said. “But it was true, I was 16 and there were guys 22, 23 years old. I didn’t have the same attention span, the same work habits. It hurt me.”

That might have been fatal in another system. But since then, thanks to [Coach Dean] Smith’s relentless insistence on role playing, Daugherty has become perhaps one of the league’s most consistent players, and the backbone of North Carolina’s top-ranked team of no-names. Once a half-intimidated, half-cocky late starter out of Charles D. Owen High in rural Black Mountain, N.C., he has blossomed into the second leading scorer in the ACC, averaging 20 points. Only the 22.6 average of Maryland’s Len Bias is better.

Sally Jenkins, writing for The Washington Post, chronicled Brad’s ups and downs:

During his college basketball career North Carolina’s Brad Daugherty has been accused of knocking a man out, breaking up a newspaper stand and throwing candy at cars.

It isn’t that Daugherty is one of those trouble cases. In fact, North Carolina’s 6-foot-11 center is so smart he skipped eighth grade, he’s so polite it’s hard to get your hand back when you shake, and he has his head on straighter than the base line at Dean Smith’s gym. It’s just that he’s always getting caught for things he didn’t do.

The knockout incident occurred last spring, when he was offering the victim of a fight a handkerchief and was mistaken for one of the brawlers. The candy incident was a simple traffic quarrel his freshman year, like the newspaper incident, when all he was trying to do was get back his money. So he hit the thing, and it just sort of broke, and he was served with a warrant, naturally.

“I’ve just got an incredible knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said. (Source: The Washington Post, February 20, 1986)

Coach Dean Smith believed in his lanky center and the proof kept on coming:

[…] Brad Daugherty, the 18-year-old, 6’11” sophomore center, has continued to mature physically. “There were times last year when he should have gotten a rebound, and guys took it away from him,” says Perkins, who’s free to play forward thanks to Daugherty‘s progress. “But he’s trained hard with weights. I guess he got tired of guys pushing him around.”

The Washington Post again:

Daugherty’s development is startling for a player who did not really come into his own until his senior year as a prep, and who spent his sophomore year as the team manager. It was following his sophomore year that he grew from 6-3 to 6-10, but he doesn’t remember much of it, because he spent the time sleeping.

“I thought I had narcolepsy,” he said. “It just felt so good to go to sleep. I’d sleep for three hours after school, then go to practice, come home, and go right to bed. I was Rip Van Winkle, a bear in hibernation. I just know my clothes got shorter and I started hitting my head in places I didn’t used to. And all of a sudden I got better around the basket.”  (Source: The Washington Post, February 20, 1986)

By Brad’s senior year, Charley Scher, sports editor of the Chronicle, Duke University’s student newspaper, was calling UNC “the evil empire” with a serious Brad at the center. Sally Jenkins, writing for The Washington Post:

That the Tar Heels are the top-ranked team in the country is nothing particularly new, nor is the way they have gone about it, typically undefeated at 16-0 (2-0 in the ACC). The force with which they have wielded their authority, however, is cause for some remark, for they have scored more than 100 points in seven of 16 games so far. That, along with their unbearably clean-cut image, may make them as cheerfully detested as any North Carolina team in recent memory.

It comes as something of a shock to discover that the serious-minded Tar Heels say they have fun from time to time. One has to wonder, however, what that entails. For instance, they seemed to have a grand time cleaning out their lockers the other day.

“We have a lot of humor,” Hale said. “Like Brad, he’s a funny guy.”

Brad? Daugherty? The 20.3 points a game, 6-foot-11 Brad Daugherty who scored 33 compassionless points against beleaguered Fordham? What kind of funny things does he say?

“I don’t really remember anything,” [Steve] Hale said.  (Source: The Washington Post, January 14, 1986)

Entering college at 16, Brad had a lot of growing up to do outside of basketball. And Dean Smith was the perfect father figure. Brad, writing for Dean Smith: A Tribute:

The first time I met Coach Smith, I was actually a junior in high school. He was speaking at a banquet in Asheville, North Carolina on behalf of the seniors getting ready to graduate. I happened to be going to that banquet. It was an awesome banquet for high-school players. Coach Smith was talking about Eric Kenny, some of the players. He said: “I’d like to meet Brad Daugherty and talk to him some time. But obviously, I can’t do it right now. It would be against NCAA rules. “ I just started laughing. Nobody was going to know. I made a point to say hello at the end of the night, but that was it. He’s a real stickler for those kinds of things.

As a senior, I was recruited by everyone in the country. Bobby Knight, Lefty Driesell, they all came to my gym to watch me play pickup basketball. Coach Guthridge always came to my games. I never got to see Coach Smith a whole lot. The thing that sticks out in my mind is that I had so many promises made to me. I was fifteen years of age – I started school early and skipped eighth grade. I made my official visit to Carolina and went to watch a practice. He was just killing the guys. I had been to practice at all the schools where I made official visits. Nothing was even close. I played with Danny Ferry a long time in Cleveland. He told me that one reason he didn’t come to Carolina is because he had watched practice, and it scared him to death.

I thought it was just phenomenal. It was 90 percent conditioning and 10 percent basketball. After practice, Coach Smith talked to me, asked me some academic questions. He didn’t say much about basketball. He said: “I won’t promise that you’ll start on my team. But I promise that if you stay hear four years, you’ll receive a quality education. “ He’s the only guy who said that to me. At 15, I heard a lot of things I wanted to hear. That was not one of them. That really jarred something in me. A light clicked on, and I made up my mind that I was going to North Carolina. I made my commitment and signed.

I came down the first time and Coach Smith welcomed me to the campus. He picked up my bag and said: “I’ll carry your bag to your room. This will be the first and last time I’ll carry your bag.” From there one, he set the tone, being a disciplinarian. A lot of people don’t understand why we love Coach Smith so much. But it’s a family-type situation. He’s like a second dad to all of us. He’s the strictest disciplinarian I’ve ever been involved with in my life. But he did it in a way that was unique. No cursing, no berating, just a lot of psychological things he explained to make you realize you screwed up, and make you agree that the punishment was just. It takes someone very smart to discipline that way.

Coach Smith is probably one of three people in this world I could tell anything. He’s not going to judge me on it. He knows my character. He’s going to help. There’s not many people like that in your life. And we all fell that way about him. That’s why we like coming back, hanging around the University of North Carolina.  (Source: Dean Smith: A Tribute, Ken Rosenthal, 2001, Sports Publishing LLC)

Coach Smith kept his word; Brad graduated as a mass communication major and a journalism minor. Many years later, he would tell Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch:

My guy was Paul Harvey. As a kid, my dream was to take Paul Harvey’s job some day. I used to sit by the radio, my dad would come home for lunch, and we’d listen to those stories. And I’d watch Walter Cronkite. I’d watch how he sat and how he composed himself. I’ve always been interested in people who deliver and decipher information.

Coach Smith helped Brad negotiate the world of agents and professional basketball culminating in the Cleveland Cavaliers choosing Brad as the #1 1986 draft pick. Sports Illustrated explains both his ambition and his jersey choice:

In other words, Daugherty plays the way his hero, stock car legend Richard Petty, drives—all out. In fact, as a tribute to Petty, Daugherty wears the same number, 43, that Petty has on his car. “He’s been my idol since I was a knot on a log,” says Daugherty.

Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff tell the 1986 draft story this way in their book, Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello:

At the draft lottery, even before Gund had decided on [Wayne] Embry as his new GM, the Cleveland owner sat at a table with legendary NBA mover-and-shaker Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics. He asked Auerbach who he would take if he had the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“I guess he’s usually pretty canny in conversations like that, like you usually don’t know what agenda he’s got. But at the time, it did not look like we would end up with the No. 1 pick. I’m sure he might not have been so candid if he had known that was going to be the case, but I didn’t even know it at the time” Gund said.

So, Auerbach was honest.

“If you can pick a center, get one. And the best one in the draft is North Carolina’s Brad Daugherty. If I was picking No.1, that’s who I would take. That’s what you build from,” Auerbach told Gund.  (Source: Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff, page 189)

What a time to be chosen by the Cavs.  Bill Plaschke wrote in detail about the team developing in Cleveland under the tutelage of Lenny Wilkens, under the title “On the Rebound Cleveland is Falling in Love With Lenny Wilkens – Just Like Another City Did:”

[Coach Lenny] Wilkens has taken an NBA team disguised as an Afterschool Special – top three scorers are rookies, often five rookies play at the same time – and led them to 15 wins in 38 games. They have a better record than five other NBA teams, including Sacramento, which doesn’t even have a rookie on the roster.

Wilkens has even helped bring home attendance up […] to 11,366. Multiply that by the stretch of 20 icy miles that separates the Richfield Coliseum and downtown Cleveland and you have genuine, big-hearted interest.

Anybody see the headline in the suburban Cleveland newspaper the other day?

“Wilkens may not be a saint, but he’s close.”

In the Cavs, Wilkens found a young team that has never won a division title (the youngest NBA team in 30 years). A team with a standout rookie center (Brad Daugherty). A team with a sometimes out-of-control young guard (Ron Harper) and forward (John Williams). A team with a couple of other veterans (John Bagley, Phil Hubbard) to help bring the kids along.

“When I came into the league, my biggest worry was coaches who were quick to degrade you,” said rookie center Brad Daugherty from North Carolina. “My buddy in Dallas, Sam Perkins, has just been eaten alive by the guy down there (Dick Motta). I didn’t want that happening to me. I wanted somebody who would work with me.

“I had heard from a lot of people that Lenny was like some other coaches. That he didn’t coach. I heard a lot of things about that.”

Daugherty held his arms out and shook his head. “But turns out, with Lenny it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

The centerpiece of this developing team was no longer considered soft:

His [Brad’s] strength was not always easily discernible. When he came out of North Carolina as the No. 1 pick in the 1986 draft, 16% of his total body weight was fat. Some observers considered him soft; others, just wide. “I remember being behind him in college and thinking he was three people,” recalls Cleveland forward Danny Ferry, a Duke graduate. “But he’s country strong. That’s probably the biggest compliment you can give him.”

By 1989, Daugherty was spoken of in glowing terms around the country:

Daugherty is the Cavaliers’ most valuable player, uncommonly gifted at a position going out of fashion at the highest levels of basketball. (Source: The Washington Post, January 30, 1989)

Magic Johnson has dubbed the Cavaliers “the team of the 1990s.” And Utah coach Jerry Sloan says, “They’re no fluke. Everyone in the NBA knows how good they are.” (Source:  Sports Illustrated, January 9, 1989)

[…] Daugherty was supposedly too soft to build a team around when Cleveland made him the No. 1 pick out of North Carolina. But one look at his family, where he had to do battle with two older brothers—one now 7-foot, 290, the other 6’7″, 240—would have told you he could survive under duress. He has become a physical force more prone to fouling than to backing off, and he has always been a team player. “We could easily designate our offense so that one of us could score 25 or 30 every night,” Daugherty says. “But with a young team and all the energy we have, that would be kind of foolish. This way, we all become better players. Everyone has the opportunity to be the man, and it’s up to each of us to take it.” (Source:  Sports Illustrated, Hank Hersch, Look Who’s On Top; Forget all the cadaver jokes; Cleveland’s upstart Cavaliers have the NBA’s best record)

The 1988-89 season, ending with the tragic Michael Jordan “did that really just happen” shot was summed up by Brad:

Years later, in a discussion during a break in the All-Star weekend festivities, Daugherty said, “There are a lot of things I will remember about that season. The thing I’ll remember the most, though, is coming onto the floor before so many of those games. Especially the home games.

“There was this feeling we had. You could sense it. It was a feeling that we knew that everyone we played knew we were going to kick their asses. It was an amazing feeling, one that I never had before and one that I’ve never had since.”  (Source: Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff, Sagamore Publishing, page 203)

In January of 1992, The New York Times, under the title “Joins Top Echelon,” declared Brad one of the elite:

Until this season [1991-1992], few placed Daugherty in the same class with the league’s other top centers — Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. But at age 26, Daugherty has become a center who is capable of having an impact on a game in many ways — scoring points, rebounding, blocking shots, and forcing opponents to double-team him, which creates opportunities for his teammates.

Sports Illustrated joined in:

[Mark] Price’s brilliance as a playmaker may be less pivotal to Cleveland than the sustained dominance of the 7-foot, 265-pound Daugherty is. “This team’s really built around Brad,” says sixth man John (Hot Rod) Williams. “Mark controls it, but Brad is the focus.”

Consider that after 33 games this season Daugherty had outscored the opposing center 29 times. On the first through ninth days of Christmas, Daugherty got the best of five future Hall of Famers: Moses Malone, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Robert Parish. At week’s end Daugherty was scoring a team-high 22.2 points and pulling down a team-high 10.3 rebounds a game while shooting 57.3% and leading the league’s pivotmen in assists with 124.

USA Today couldn’t say enough about Brad in March of 1992:

When the NBA’s great centers are discussed, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Brad Daugherty often is overlooked.

It’s time for that oversight to end.

Daugherty combines a clever inside game with a high post game built around his shooting and passing ability. It’s difficult to double-team him because he gets rid of the ball so quickly. Despite his size (7-0, 263), he runs the court well and gets his share of easy baskets.

”He’s elevated his game to another level each year,” said [Coach] Wilkens. ”He does everything well and makes it look easy. He gets out on the break and runs the court as well as any center and is a great passer. He steps out on defense and he also has the inside moves and gets the rebounds.” (Source: USA Today, March 25, 1992)

Joe Menzer and Burt Graeff, from their book, Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello:

By the middle of the 1991-92 season, Daugherty and Price had developed into a very special pair on the basketball court. Former NBA coach Jack Ramsay called them “the two best offensive players at their position in the game.”   (Source:  Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, John Menzer and Burt Graeff, Sagamore Publishing, page 245)

Indiana Pacer’s general manager, Donnie Walsh, summed up Brad’s stellar play in April of the same year:

Mark Price is a great player, but the key player on that team is Daugherty …

His strongest asset is his passing. With his ability to pass, you are talking about a guy playing center who has the same effect on opposing teams as Larry Bird does in Boston.  (Source: USA Today, April 23, 1992)

Not to be outdone, Cavs general manager Wayne Embry told the Boston Globe in early May:

He [Brad Daugherty] has the intelligence of a Russell, the passing skill of Bill Walton and Alvan Adams, he’s big and strong like Wilt, good off the low post like Kareem and he has the bulk and size of Unseld […]  (Source: The Boston Globe, May 2, 1992)

And yet, Brad Daugherty was not a household name.  The Boston Globe ruminated on Brad’s relative obscurity during the spring of 1992, listing three key factors:

Given his accomplishments, why doesn’t the Cavs center get more attention? And respect?

1)  Personality

It’s partly his low-key style. The man whom friends call “Big Dukie” and “Hooch” is a country-and-western kind of guy who feels more at ease hunting rattlesnakes, riding horses, fishing or watching old Clint Eastwood movies than he does promoting himself. That’s simply not the way it was done in the tiny town of Black Mountain, N.C., where Daugherty grew up.

2)  Public memories of 16-year-old “baby fat” Brad

The rap that he was “soft,” which he couldn’t shake when he entered the league, also no longer seems a fair fit. After all, he was young then (he entered college at 16 and pro basketball at 21). And he carried around a lot of what looked like baby fat.

Today he lifts weights, eats little if any red meat and has cut his body fat in half, from about 20 percent to 10.

3)  Cleveland’s relative lack of media attention

There’s also the “problem” of playing in Cleveland, where media attention is limited and basketball history is less than rich.

But this series could give Daugherty just the exposure his teammates and others say he deserves.

“He’s the most underrated player in the league,” said Nets big man Sam Bowie. “Now he’ll finally get the chance on national TV to show he’s as good as his numbers indicate.”  (Source:  The Boston Globe, May 2, 1992)

Brad’s teammates were already well acquainted with the “new” Brad, all grown up, in peak physical condition and maturing in other ways as well:

On a front line with two leapers, [Hot Rod] Williams and Larry Nance, Daugherty once looked like a van sandwiched between two dragsters. Now the ripples in his arms outnumber the folds in his stomach, and he dunks on the break with grace and power. He is also coming into his own in the locker room. “Who is our leader?” says Wilkens. “Who is emerging? Brad is. I see him.”

These were the glory days for Cavs fans. Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance at the Richfield Coliseum. The Boston Globe would have been forgiven for hating Brad as the Cavs rode roughshod over the Celtics, but they gushed once again, writing in late May of 1992:

The Celtics-Cavaliers series has been Brad Daugherty’s Academy Awards ceremony. His debutante ball. His chance to prove to millions of skeptical TV viewers beyond any reasonable doubt that he belongs in the ranks of the NBA’s dominant big men.

They said Daugherty had to shine for the Cavs to prevail. He did, and they have […]

That’s clear to anyone who has watched Daugherty on the court – sinking his spinning baby hook, driving for layups, slamming down rim-rattling dunks and, best of all, teaming up with guard Mark Price for what may be the best give-and-go duo in the game.

[…] Through five games, the 7-foot center led the Cavs in scoring, with 23.8 points per game.

[…] Among Cavs regulars, Daugherty also had the deadliest eye from the floor, hitting 57.6 percent of his shots.

And he led his team in rebounding, with 10.8 a game. That’s better than he recorded in all but one regular season, and it’s even more impressive when you add in his 7 blocked shots, 14 assists, 3 steals and 41 minutes played per game.

[…]  Basketball wise men have been looking for an explanation of Robert Parish’s uncharacteristically weak performance, especially in Game 5, where he managed just 4 points. Overall, Parish was shooting 43.9 percent from the field, a big dip from his season average of 53.5.

One explanation, those in the know say, is Daugherty. […]

“He’s [Brad] been terrific,” said Cavs general manager Wayne Embry, who powered his way around the paint for the Celtics more than 20 years ago. “It’s time he started getting respect and being included as one of the premier centers.

“He’s a great offensive player, has improved his rebounding to the point where he can be counted on for 10-12 a game and always has been an exceptional passer. And he’s improved at the defensive end this year.

“He hasn’t peaked yet.”

Cavs coach Lennie Wilkins is equally enthused: “Brad has gone to another level. People don’t know how good he is because we’re not on TV all that much. He’s maturing into an outstanding player.”

Daugherty was characteristically low-key after yesterday’s workout at Brandeis University in Waltham, refusing to speculate on what lies ahead for him or his team. “We’ve just got to take it one game at a time,” he said. “When you play a team like the Celtics, you can’t look ahead.”   (Source:  The Boston Globe, May 16, 1992)

A New York Times article recapping the May 26, 1992, Cavs v. Bulls game left little doubt as to the Cavs status in the league and Brad’s importance to the Cavs:

The Cleveland Cavaliers would have had plenty of excuses if they had lost today. Mark Price, their All-Star point guard, was weakened by a stomach virus. Brad Daugherty, their All-Star center, was relentlessly double-teamed and held without a field goal until the fourth quarter.

By winning today’s battle before a frenzied capacity crowd at the Richfield Coliseum, the Cavaliers did more then even the series at 2-2. They overcame adversity and they frustrated the Bulls, a championship team that has encountered much more difficulty trying to win a second title than it did winning its first one last season.

With their quarterback sick, the Cavaliers banded together to keep the offense running smoothly. Ehlo (21 points) was aggressive offensively, making Jordan work on defense and making outside shots that gave the Cavaliers’ big men more operating room inside. Larry Nance (22 points, 11 rebounds) and John Williams (18 points) gave Cleveland the inside offense it needed. And Daugherty (14 points, 14 rebounds) played a patient, intelligent game. [emphasis added]

The Bulls are determined to keep Daugherty from dominating inside, so they are double-teaming him virtually every time he touches the ball. But Daugherty (6 assists) adjusted, looking to pass first, and choosing his shots carefully.

As might be expected, Brad dismissed talk of his game rating the attention of what he considered the real talents in a March 15, 1993, interview with Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Hoffer:

“I’m not a great athlete like Hakeem Olajuwon or David Robinson […] ,” says Daugherty, “I’m just not a running, jumping kind of player.” There is nothing about his game, which the casual fan sees as a series of soft hooks and jumpers, that is terribly exciting. Yet he does lead the Cavaliers in scoring (20.3 a game) and rebounds (10). And he leads NBA centers in that all-unassuming statistic, assists (4.3).

“I’m not the kind of player somebody’s going to name a shoe after,” says Daugherty.

About the only time you really notice Daugherty, a five-time All-Star now in his seventh season, is when he’s not in the game. During the 1989-90 season he missed 41 games, and the Cavs drifted from their 57-25 record of the season before to 42-40. Even this season, when he missed nine games in November with tendinitis in his left knee, Cleveland won on only three occasions.

And then a slight crack.

Starting in August of 1993, Brad’s stats begin to decline. Daugherty reported flu-like symptoms – dizziness and lightheadedness. 7 days. 10 days. 2 months. 3 months. The goal began to look like it was shaking. Scoring, shooting and rebounding percentages for our five-time All-Star are all in decline.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic came to the rescue in mid-December of 1993, with a diagnosis of “benign positional vertigo, an inner-ear disorder in which there is a disturbance (because of trauma) of nerve impulses that control balance.” (Source: USA Today, December 28, 1993)

Feeling relieved, a few days after his diagnosis, Daugherty scored a season-high 27 points in a 107-103 overtime victory against the Indiana Pacers. The second half of the 1993-1994 season began innocently enough until mid-February when Brad suffered a herniated lumbar disc.

Sitting out the rest of the season, Brad’s back appear to heal completely over the summer. Two weeks before the team was to leave for training camp, Daugherty suffered a major setback:

The doctors were unsure why the pain returned after it seemed to be completely under control. Daugherty said it flared up when he reached down to pick up his tennis shoe about 20 minutes after he had been out running.

“Our expectations are that he is going to improve clinically and will get back to the level of play to which he is accustomed,” Bell said.  (Source: The Associated Press, October 6, 1994)

Still hoping to play in fall of 1994, Brad stayed behind when the Cavaliers headed to Wright State in Dayton, Ohio, for training camp. Breaks a Cavs fan’s heart to read Brad’s sentiments:

“Sure I’m concerned, but with all the information I’ve gathered in the past six or seven months, I really feel comfortable with the idea of going through rehab and getting back to playing,”

Daugherty said at [sic] new Gund Arena. “I hope to be playing at the beginning of the season. Whether I will or not, I don’t know for sure. I’m very optimistic and looking forward to playing. I just look at it as a minor setback.”

“I want to play another 10 years of basketball,” he said. “That’s my goal. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it or not, but I’m going to try. Retirement’s not feasible to me at this point.” (Source: The Associated Press, October 6, 1994)

He never played another game.

In July of 1996, not having played since February of 1994, and after undergoing surgery to remove herniated discs and portions of his spine, an official NBA doctor concurred with Daugherty’s numerous physicians. Wayne Embry spoke emotionally as a General Manager and friend:

Brad Daugherty has traveled from coast to coast, probably Maine to California, and probably seen 10 doctors in the last two years to finalize his decision.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind, with the present team we have now, we would still be a contender if Brad was able to trot out there with his No. 43.” (Source: AP, July 22, 1996)

How much of the country boy was still left in Brad Daugherty after 8 years in Cleveland and the NBA? Sports Illustrated’s description of the 1992 Brad:

… from his ostrich-skin boots to his warbling rendition of Mirror Minor by the group Diamond Rio, country is king for Daugherty. Having grown up on a farm in Black Mountain, N.C. (pop: 5,418), with a father who was a retired Army staff sergeant, a working mother and two older brothers whose combined weight is more than 500 pounds, Brad developed discipline and learned the value of hard work. “I’ve always known I was tough—I grew up getting stepped on by bulls and had my fingers broken messing with horses,” he says. “… people have always mistaken my kindness for weakness. But I’m not going to take anything off anybody. You come to play me, I’m going to try to kick your butt. I may not do it, but I’m going to try.”

Brad walked out of our lives and into the business world. According to a recent interview conducted by John Boyle, Citizen-Times (Asheville) reporter, Brad:

[… is] part-owner of five car dealerships outside Cleveland, owns part of a racing team, works every week as a NASCAR analyst for ESPN, speaks to corporations and groups around the country — and, oh yeah, he’s also in the garbage business.

“I don’t think anyone can outwork us,” Daugherty said with a smile, referring to Swannanoa-based Daugherty Waste & Trucking. “We’ll come get your garbage at midnight, if that’s what it takes. In fact, we’ve got some accounts, some restaurants, where we do pick up their recycling late at night.”

As part of the Cavaliers 30th Anniversary in 1999-2000, Daugherty was unanimously named by 32 members of the Northeast Ohio media to the Cavaliers’ All-Time Starting Five. He was the only player to garner all 32 votes.

The Cavaliers retired his jersey on March 1, 1997.

In his spare time, Brad is a commentator on NASCAR for ESPN and “has just bought into a team with JTG Racing/Wood Brothers Racing with Jody and Tad Geshieckter.”

Interviewed by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated in January of 2007, Brad spoke again of his hero, Richard Petty:

SI: Most readers probably don’t know that you wore No. 43 in high school and in the NBA in honor of Richard Petty?

Daugherty: And I couldn’t wear it at North Carolina because Curtis Hunter, my freshman roommate, wore it. We had to flip a coin for it and he did not represent the 43 very well (laughs). But I met Richard Petty when I was a young fellow. Here I was, this young African-American kid at Daytona, probably 7 or 8 years old, and we just talked. He asked me what I liked to do, and he told me he was glad to see me at the race track. That made a huge impact on me. I told myself if I ever became famous, I would always take time to speak to anyone.

For the most part, though, Brad Daugherty is happiest in the still quiet of early morning fishing.

There’s a 1 1/2-acre pond not far from his childhood home in Black Mountain, N.C., that means as much to Brad Daugherty as the first basketball goal that went up in his yard.

This is his real home court – the fishing hole he shared with his dad as a kid.

“It’s such a great challenge and a wonderful way to relax. It brings perspective back. It cleans your mind and keeps your feet on the ground. I never think of basketball when I’m fishing.”

Then there’s the Stick Marsh, a reserve east of Orlando.

Daugherty, who owns a home in Ormond Beach, Fla., got up at 3:30 a.m. almost every Saturday last summer [1992], drove the hour to the reserve and fished with a friend until dark. (Source: USA Today, February 18, 1993)

Cleveland loves you, Brad. Come speak to us.



Because he can’t sit still, because a strong work ethic was instilled in him at an early age when he dug potatoes, set tobacco and cut grass, we can add golfing to his list of achievements:

There’s something – how to say this? – unnatural about seeing a 7-footer swing a golf club with buttery fluidity. You arrive at the course expecting to find an erector set with a six-piece swing, an octopus flailing at the ball with a set of Callaway irons. Instead you find Daugherty, whose swing looks as balanced and idyllic as the animated PGA Tour logo – which, ironically, he sometimes mimicked to help hone his graceful action after taking up the game near the end of his basketball career. But then, what do you expect from a guy who, after graduating from UNC, was the No. 1 pick in the 1986 NBA Draft at age 20?


In 1987, Daugherty co-founded a race team that competed on a regional NASCAR circuit, and two years later, after moving up to NASCAR’s Busch (now Nationwide) Series, he became the first rookie owner to win with a rookie driver. But he can’t resist getting behind the wheel himself. There’s a hilarious YouTube video from February of Daugherty slithering through the window of a stock car and taking an addled Carl Edwards, one of NASCAR’s top drivers, for a spin.  [Editor’s note: Since starting the research for this article, the YouYube video of Brad and Carl has been removed from YouTube.]


If the Cleveland Cavaliers had mailed out a collective Christmas card [December, 1991], it would have shown them scratching their heads and searching their souls. Around Yuletide, center Brad Daugherty branded the Cavs “a team in recovery” from injuries and recent personnel changes. Coach Lenny Wilkens, citing the gradual comeback of point guard Mark Price from knee surgery, tabled all discussion of Cleveland’s prospects until January. General manager Wayne Embry vowed that his high-priced bench would pay dividends someday. And team owners George and Gordon Gund lined the players’ lockers with black-leather jackets in a gesture of generosity and, maybe, symbolism. Says Price, “They might have been saying something about our image.”

On Phil Hubbard (speaking in 1988)

By 1988, Hubbard knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. Still, teammates like Daugherty appreciated the wily veteran.

“People think the whole game is what they see out on the court,” said Daugherty, “but where it really starts is in the locker room and upstairs in the practice gym, and that is where Phil is so valuable. I feel lucky to have him here with us. So much of what he does is unseen. People see myself or Ron Harper or Mark Price, but they don’t see and probably don’t appreciate how much Phil Hubbard has meant to our success.”  (Source:  Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, John Menzer and Burt Graeff, Sagamore Publishing, page 214)

Coaches / Players Comments

“They are scary,” said Houston coach Don Chaney. “They impress me more than the Lakers.”

Laimbeer begrudgingly had been taking notice of the Cavaliers. “They are like the Mike Tyson of the NBA,” he said. “We have to play hard against them for 48 minutes or it will be all over.”

“We have no answer to their center, “ said Hornets coach Dick Harter.

Kings coach Jerry Reynolds lauded the Cavaliers after losing to them, 110-94. “Cleveland and the Lakers are the two best teams in the league,” he said. “I don’t know if the Cavaliers are quite as gifted, but they’re the most solid. They could be wearing rings the next three, four years.”

Bomb Threat

Some Pistons fans started to take the Cavaliers seriously. The Northfield Hilton Hotel, where the Cavaliers staying in the Detroit area, received a telephone call at 4:15 p.m. The caller said a bomb was set to go off at 4:45. The hotel was emptied at 4:30 and the Cavaliers boarded a bus to drive around the area for about 45 minutes.

“At first I thought this was all a joke,” said Wilkens, who received a telephoned death threat about one hour before the hotel received the bomb threat. “When I realized it wasn’t, I hung up. It’s a sad commentary when something like this happens.”  (Source:  Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, John Menzer and Burt Graeff, Sagamore Publishing, page 219)

Brad’s Bio

His parents, Roy and Dorothy, decided to move Brad and his two older brothers to western North Carolina from New Rochelle, New York, shortly before Brad’s birth in 1965. “They decided it would be a better life for us to grow up as country kids,” Brad said.

Roy Daugherty, a master-drill sergeant in the Army for 26 years, instilled discipline and respect for other people in his three boys. But they still were boys…and boys will be boys at times. Roy Daugherty knew how to deal with that, too.

“You had to obey and respect him, but it wasn’t too bad,” Brad said. “If you wanted a whipping, he would give you one – but it usually came about because you deserved it. His lectures were worse than any whipping, because you knew you had done something really bad. I feared them more.”

The worst, though, was the combination lecture-whipping. Young, adventuresome Brad Daugherty found himself on the wrong end of those a few times as well.

“For awhile [sic] I was really into scaring my mom with snakes and frogs and stuff I would catch out in the woods. (My father) thought it was funny at first, but it got to the point where I was scarin’ the hell out of my mom. I would sneak up on her while she was in the kitchen cooking, and drop a snake or something on the floor behind her,” Brad said.

“My father finally told me that was no way to act toward my mother, but I kept on with it anyway because I thought it was funny. Then one day I brought a little baby copperhead into the house, and we couldn’t find it for a couple of days. I ended up getting’ a whippin’ for that.”

As he grew older, he found other diversions. Like basketball. His hoops career got off to an inauspicious start when his father nailed an 8 1/2-foot high basket to an oak tree in their backyard.

Brad would battle with brother Greg, who was 10 years older, and Steve, who was five years older, on that dirt court. Greg would one day grow to 7-foot and play collegiately at West Carolina, while Steve, who grew to 6-7, went on to play collegiately at East Carolina and professionally for a brief while in Europe.

“I would get into backyard games with my older brothers,” said Brad, “and they would pop me upside the head, smack me around, and try to make me cry. Then, as I got a little older, they would go to play in pickup games and I would beg them to let me come along. The only way they would let me play is if I promised to do nothing but pass them the ball all day long.”

So as he grew into a larger and more experienced player, Daugherty rather naturally evolved into the rare big fella who thought “pass” first. Bill Burrows, the coach at nearby Charles D. Owen High School, took notice – especially when Daugherty sprouted from 6-foot-3 as a sophomore to 6-11 ½ as a senior.

College recruiters took notice, too. Daugherty received about 300 letters from interested schools. One day, as Daugherty sat in Burrows’ office with his coach, Indiana University coach Bob Knight called and asked to speak with Brad.

“Coach,” Daugherty candidly told Knight, “I am not interested in Indiana. I don’t want to play for another coach who hollers and screams.”

Said Burrows later, “I got a kick out of that. I still kid him about it.”

Daugherty already was younger than many of his classmates because he began first grade a year earlier, and then he tested out of a year in high school. So he graduated at age 16, barely giving himself enough time to get his driver’s license.

Not that would he [sic] let such a technicality keep him off the roads earlier.

“I had this old Volkswagon that I let guys on the basketball team drive, “ Burrows said. “One day I’m driving down the road with one of my assistants and here comes my old VW the other way. All I can see on the driver’s side of the car are knees and elbows.

“We turned around – and when we caught up with them, it must have taken Brad five minutes to get out of that car.”

Burrows remembers another time at the McDonald’s All-American game in Chicago after Daugherty’s senior year in high school “Brad ate nine Big Macs in one sitting. That’s the truth,” he said.

By the time Daugherty came to the Cavaliers in 1986, though, he was mature beyond his 20 years. Four seasons at the University of North Carolina under Coach Dean Smith, a man Daugherty greatly respects, taught him much about the fundamentals of life as well as about basketball. The lessons began even before Daugherty signed the bottom line on the national letter of intent to attend North Carolina, which, led by a junior-to-be named Michael Jordan, was coming off its only national championship season the year he was recruited.

While other coaches applied the full-court press in an attempt to lure Daugherty to their schools (“Lefty Driesell about lived in my town, he wanted me to go to Maryland so bad,” Brad said), Coach Smith took a different approach. He went to watch Daugherty practice once and then made precisely one visit to the Daugherty home in Black Mountain.

“The amazing thing was that my parents and I sat there and Coach Smith never said a word about basketball. Not a single word,” Daugherty said.

Instead, Smith showed Daugherty the Carolina media guide, turning to a page that revealed a list of Carolina graduates who had gone on to become doctors, lawyers and coaches. It was a list, Daugherty later said, of “real people with degrees and good jobs.”

This method of recruiting, in Daugherty’s own words, “blew me away. I was so used to coaches saying they were going to build their programs around me – that sort of crap. Coach Smith just said I could have a scholarship if I wanted one and that I’d get a good education. He never promised anything else.”  (Source:  Cavs: From Fitch to Fratello, John Menzer and Burt Graeff, Sagamore Publishing, pages 242-244)

Published by Luke Ross

Luke Ross, is the founder of Luke grew up watching and playing soccer but his heart was always in Basketball. Luke arrived in Cleveland in 1993 and turned into a Cavaliers fan since.