At 38, NBA Player at the Top of His Game

Only a few months ago, P.J. Brown was cooling out in Louisiana, thinking about life after the NBA. At 38 years old, Brown is one of the oldest players in the league, yet finds himself in the NBA finals — one game away from winning a championship.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook. Tonight the Boston Celtics could win their first NBA title in 22 years. They've got a three-games-to-one lead over the Los Angeles Lakers, thanks to stars like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But at crunch time in Thursday night's pivotal game four, the Celtics went old-school.

ANNOUNCER: Final second, P.J. Brown dunks it with 1.7 remaining and it's a two-point game.

SEABROOK: The oldest player on the team and one of the oldest in the league, 38-year-old P.J. Brown anchors a veteran Celtic bench that's played a crucial role in the championship bid. NPR's Chris Arnold has the story.

CHRIS ARNOLD: For every basketball player who wins an NBA championship, there are a lot of equally good players who never got a chance to compete in the finals. Earlier this year, 38-year-old P.J. Brown was thinking he was one of them. The 6'11 power forward was midway through the season and still hadn't signed with a team. He was living with his family in Slidell, Louisiana outside of New Orleans and driving his four kids to school and playing some pick-up ball with local high schoolers.

Mr. P.J. BROWN (Celtics): Three or four months ago I was about as close to being out this league, you know, shutting the door for good.

ARNOLD: Brown had played for Miami, New Orleans, and Chicago over the years and earned a reputation as a solid defender and rebounder. He's the classic hard-working supporting player who can quietly add a lot of strength to a team. And when Celtic stars Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were in New Orleans for the All-Star game, they went out of their way to find Brown and convinced him to come back from retirement to join them.

ANNOUNCER: P.J. Brown, the rebound.

ARNOLD: The idea was that Brown would come off the bench to play good D, get them rebounds, and have a veteran's composure. Nobody expected heroics. Brown was worried about getting back into shape. Then came the end of game seven in the play-offs against the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Celtics were up by only one point, the shot clock was almost down to zero, the ball went to Brown about 20 feet from the basket. The game was on ESPN.

ANNOUNCER: Brown, the jump shot, puts it in, P.J. Brown, the unlikely hero. And the Celtics go up by three with 1.21 remaining. What a performance from the veteran here in the fourth quarter.

ARNOLD: Brown says that shot was probably the biggest in his 15 years in the league. And he says it's just amazing at 38 years old to now finally be playing for the championship and playing at key moments at the end of games.

Mr. BROWN: You know, a dream that I've had since a kid, a dream since I was drafted in 1992 and to be able to come out and contribute on this level and be effective, you know, it means a lot. It means even more for my teammates to support me and encourage me and they just give me, you know, so much love on this team. And I just want to, you know, go out and give them all I can.

ARNOLD: P.J. Brown is the elder statesman of the team, but not by much. Backup guard Sam Cassell is also 38 and only two months younger than Brown. At one of the pre-game practices Cassell says he's loving the opportunity too, but he says he's feeling the heat. After two decades since the last championship, a lot of Celtics legends are watching, hall-of-famers like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and John Havlicek. Cassell doesn't want to let them down.

Mr. SAM CASSELL (Celtics): It's about (inaudible), and this (inaudible) up here. That's what it's all about here.

ARNOLD: So the history brings a little more pressure?

Mr. CASSELL: Oh man - you don't understand it, you know, you see a guy like Havlicek come up to you and tell you, you know, it ain't over. You know, that's pressure from God, now that's - wow.

ARNOLD: If you watch some of the games you might notice the youngest guy on the bench. That would be seven-year-old ball boy Jaelen House, backup guard Eddie House's son. During the games he's right there on the wood floor cheering for his dad and high-fiving him when he comes in off the court. How cool was that to come off, you know, and you got your kid there, you know, cheering for you?

Mr. EDDIE HOUSE (Celtics): Oh that's big. He's cheering for everybody. You know, he's here giving everybody some love so it's good. We need his support.

ARNOLD: Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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