Brandon Bailey has been a member of the Boston Celtics coaching staff for the last five seasons, but it wasn't until a recent trip to the United Center that the Mount Prospect native sat on the bench to witness his first "live" Celtics game.
Bailey, a video coordinator/assistant coach for the Celtics, is always in the locker room during games in order to quickly splice film for the rest of the staff. A Jan. 7 contest against the Chicago Bulls was the one exception.
When Celtics head coach Brad Stevens missed the Bulls game to visit with a former Butler player fighting cancer, it created a next-man-up scenario among the coaching staff that led to Bailey owning a spot on the bench for the first time in his NBA career. His debut couldn't have come at a better time, as Bailey's parents -- Saint Patrick Hall of Fame basketball coach Mike Bailey and wife Karol -- and his four best friends, all St. Pat's graduates, were among the hometown crowd.
The opportunity to take a seat among the world's best basketball players and coaches was humbling for Bailey, 30, who took some time to reflect on a promising career he never saw for himself.
"It was never really a goal of mine to make it to the NBA," Bailey recalled, hours before Bulls-Celtics tipoff. "I honestly thought I would be (in Chicago), coaching either at DePaul (where he went to college) or at Pat's, for my whole life."
Considering his upbringing, that scenario would have been easy to imagine.
A coach's son
As a child, Bailey often was by his father's side, sharing his own opinions on how to run a successful offense.
"I'd be watching tape, diagraming plays and he'd be there with me, diagraming plays," Mike Bailey remembered.
Brandon would absorb the knowledge of the great basketball minds that spent time at his home, including high school head coaches Gene Heidkamp (Benet Academy), Tim Trendel (Providence) and Ron Ashlaw (Waukegan), all of whom were once Mike Bailey's assistant coaches at St. Pat's. If Brandon wasn't learning basketball at home, he was on scouting assignments with his dad or attending Shamrocks games and practices.
While other kids his age were dreaming of being the next Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, Brandon just wanted to emulate St. Pat's greats Terry Frigo (1997) or Anthony Scala (2001).
Bailey earned the opportunity to suit up for the Green and Gold, but it became clear that playing the sport of basketball was not in his future.
"I was probably the worst coach's son of all time. It didn't matter how hard I worked, that's just the way it was," Bailey recalled. "That was a very valuable lesson for me. Things are never handed to you. Whether your father is the head coach or not, that's just the way it is. I still worked my butt off at everything that I did there."
Unbeknown to him then, that attitude would lead Brandon to a job in the NBA and allow him to earn the respect of coach Brad Stevens, who appreciates working alongside a coach's son.
"Brandon feels the pain of losing like a head coach or a guy that grew up in head coach's household," Stevens said. "When we win, he studies the game very objectively instead of being excited that we won. He always thinks about what's next."
After graduating from St. Pat's in 2004, Brandon's "what's next" had nothing to do with the NBA. Instead, he was focused on his next role as the student manager of the DePaul University women's basketball team, under legendary coach and family friend Doug Bruno.
Building a basketball resume
Bailey was on a Blue Demons bench from 2004-2011, first as the manager of the women's team and then as a graduate assistant for men's coaches Jerry Wainwright and Oliver Purnell.
DePaul is where Bailey began expanding his coaching philosophies beyond the high school coaches he knew. It's also where he began to develop an expertise using video as a coaching tool.
Bailey was required to tape games of upcoming opponents. Since he had experience with breaking down film with his dad, Bailey made it a priority to go above and beyond to create scouting reports as well.
It didn't take long for the manager/graduate assistant to earn the respect of the DePaul staff and Bruno.
"What you become as a manger is really your own self-definition of the job. Brandon became as close to an assistant coach as possible," Bruno said. "He put in more time, constantly trying to learn, constantly studying, constantly reading, constantly helping us in the film room. … You could tell Brandon was going to be a can't-miss coach because of the work ethic."
In the offseasons, Bailey made strides toward becoming a more well-rounded coach by working camps at Chicago's Attack Athletics, which is run by Tim Grover, who has worked with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and other NBA stars. Attack Athletics is where Bailey met Mike Procopio, now the director of player development for the Dallas Mavericks, who helped Bailey with the ins and outs of coaching, and his entrance into the NBA.
But it wasn't quite that easy.
Procopio helped Bailey land an unpaid internship with the Celtics. And accepting that internship meant moving to Boston, leaving behind his family and new fiancé, Julie.
"It was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my life. I never thought I would leave," said Bailey, who finally made his decision after a long conversation with his father, who told him, "If you don't want to do this, you have to make sure this is something you really don't want to do because this is never going to happen to you ever again."
Mike Bailey's words resonated, and Brandon realized he couldn't pass on the offer.
"I'm glad that I did take that advice," said Brandon, who is now settled into his suburban-Boston home with his wife and daughter. "Now I'm here, this is my fifth year, and I'm having a great time."
An opportunity of a lifetime
Coaching in the NBA has its perks, but life as an intern isn't always glorious, as Bailey discovered while spending six months sleeping on air mattresses, bouncing around from place to place.
"I lived with a couple girls who I didn't even know in south Boston for a couple months," said Bailey, who later settled in a place with Celtics assistant Kenny Graves.
Things got better as time went on. After completing his seven-month internship, Bailey was hired as a full-time staff member with Glenn "Doc" Rivers at the start of the 2012-13 season. The assistant video coordinator was then retained when Stevens took over. Bailey promoted to head video coordinator at the start of this season.
In his current role Bailey is responsible for breaking down tape of the opposing offenses of one-third of the NBA's teams, using the information to create scouting reports and suggest potential adjustments for the Celtics defense.
His abilities, and attitude, has impressed Stevens.
"He brings an elite work ethic. He's one of the first guys in the building, he's one of the last guys to leave," the Celtics coach said. "He never leaves a stone unturned. He's always prepared, he's smart, he's got his own opinions and he's really studied the game, especially the NBA game."
The coach is not alone in noticing what Bailey offers. R.J. Hunter, a 2015 first-round Celtics pick, is one of the players Bailey works out before games. Hunter credits Bailey for his early success.
"Brandon has been great. He's just real positive, he works hard and he's genuine," Hunter said. "He's not going to B.S. you. He knows the game."
Celtics swingman Evan Turner, who has known Bailey for 10-plus years since playing high school basketball in Chicago, shared similar sentiments.
"He's a big-time workhorse," Turner said. "He tries his best to push us to get better. If we're going through drills and he doesn't feel like the intensity is right, he's confident enough to make us redo it the right way. He just tries his best to get us prepared."
For now, all signs point toward a bright future for the upbeat coach. The video coordinator role is a great way to learn about the game. It's also the path that Miami's Eric Spoelstra and Indiana's Frank Vogel took to their head coaching jobs.
Bailey has no idea what may be in store for him in the future, but believes if he continues work hard and remains passionate, things will work out in the long run.
"Hopefully I can one day be behind a bench or in front of a bench. I'm not really thinking about it, I'm just trying to enjoy what I'm doing right now," Bailey said. "That's the mentality I've had for the last 12 years, is to just keep doing what I'm doing and working hard, and eventually things are going to work out and opportunities are going to present themselves."
• Alex Mayster is a freelance writer who also serves at communications coordinator at Saint Patrick High School.