Warriors' Brad Wanamaker describes long journey to NBA from playing overseas

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Kerith Burke
·9 min read
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Wanamaker Q&A: Long journey to NBA, childhood in Philly originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

Brad Wanamaker joined the NBA as a 29-year-old rookie. He spent two seasons with the Boston Celtics before joining the Warriors before the 2020-21 season began.

Coach Steve Kerr said Wanamaker is an “everyday player” and “a guy I trust.”

I wanted to learn more about Wanamaker’s background. This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Kerith Burke (KB): I know that Philadelphia is your hometown and you went to Roman Catholic High School. What do people need to understand about basketball in Philadelphia?

Brad Wanamaker (BW): It’s tough, first of all. If you’re not tough, you’re not making it in Philadelphia basketball. There’s a lot of talent there. 

I was fortunate enough to make it out. There were a lot of talented players before me and after me that didn't get the opportunity that I had. I’m actually living a dream for most people in Philly right now. 

KB: It's tough even at the high school level. Are you talking about hyper-competitive situations and fan bases that are mad about their teams?

BW: Super competitive, no matter what high school you went to, public or Catholic ... no matter what league you’re playing in, it’s super competitive. It's tough to survive out there. 

There are so many basketball players in Philly using the game as a tool to make it out. Everybody comes for each others’ necks. 

KB: You have a twin brother named Brian. How often did defenses confuse you?

BW: Early on, more so than later. Because I'm actually a little taller than him. Early on a lot of times people did get us confused a lot. Even people close by will call me Brian and him Brad. Growing up it was kind of cool when people misunderstood who he was. But the older we got, people would be able to pick us out.

KB: Before I leave the Philadelphia questions, how would you explain the word “jawn” to somebody who's not from Philly?

BW: Jawn is a noun. It’s a person, place or thing. You can use it as anything. It’s crazy that you asked that because a lot of people who hear me say jawn are like “what?” I’m so used to using that word a lot, growing up in Philly, but I have to explain what jawn is. It can be used as anything!

KB: You played four years at the University of Pittsburgh, undrafted in 2011. At that point, what did you think your career in basketball would be like?

BW: Honestly, I had no clue. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about overseas. It was NBA or nothing for me. So the moment that I went undrafted, my agent called and said some teams want you to come to camp. And then it was the lockout, so everything was pushed back. 

At the time, I had my son. I was fresh out of college with no money. So that's what made me go overseas. I couldn't sit around and wait when I had a family to take care of.

KB: Okay, that was my next question. When did you start looking at a career in Europe because you had workouts with NBA teams, you were doing Summer League, you were a D League champ with the Austin Toros. But you felt like there would be more opportunities for you in Europe?

BW: My rookie year, I actually played on four or five different teams. I went overseas and played on two teams. Came back. Went to training camp with the Atlanta Hawks. Got cut by the Hawks. And then I went back overseas for a month. Got some money, then came back and played with the Toros. I was still holding on to that NBA dream, just trying to find a way. 

After that championship with the Toros, I got a lot of feedback from a few NBA teams. I was going to Summer League with the Hawks. 

I think my third year overseas was when I decided I’m just going to stay over here and be the best that I can be. 

KB: You won a championship in Germany. You were the Finals MVP. How would you characterize the competition level in these leagues?

BW: Very hot. There’s a lot of players over there in Europe who could be in the NBA. A lot of them are making pretty good money and they don’t want to be the third-string shooting guard or point guard or sitting in the NBA when they can go over there and be the star player. 

The competition is really, really tough. You know, a lot of out-of-towners over there, a lot of really good players. Once you’re stuck in a situation over there where everything is good, why change the scene?

KB: How many languages do you speak? 

BW: One! I learned a few words to get by. I played in Turkey for two years. Obviously, some of the guys told me a few words to get by at restaurants. But for the most part, a lot of people spoke English. Germany, the same. I was in Germany for two years. But when you’re playing professional basketball over there, everybody in the organization speaks English. Most restaurants you go to, they speak English. I was pretty fortunate that I didn't have to know the languages fluently. 

KB: During your time in Germany or Turkey or elsewhere, did you get to visit a museum or a city or a landmark you've always wanted to see? Was there a favorite cultural moment that you had? 

BW: I didn’t have places on a bucket list, but I was able to visit Rome, the Colosseum and everything. I went to the Tower of Pisa.

I was fortunate enough to be able to go places. The Berlin Wall when I was in Germany. I was able to see Dubai. It was really cool. 

KB: Lots of stamps in your passport, it sounds like.

BW: For sure. I had two passports. I had to get a new one because of all the travel. 

KB: While you're playing overseas, did you keep an eye on the NBA?

BW: Most definitely. While I was over there [in Europe], I became a superfan. I’m staying overseas. That NBA window is closed. I’m going to be the best player I can be over here, but I’m still going to be a fan of the NBA. 

I kept a close eye on it. I had a lot of friends in the NBA.

KB: How did your time with the Celtics come about?

BW: So the year before I joined them, they showed interest in me. It didn't go as planned, on either side. But eventually, I came over [to the NBA] as a 29-year-old rookie. Which was kind of tough, but it was always my dream. So I did it. I was making pretty good money overseas. I kinda took a pay cut to come to the NBA. But it was my dream. And, you know, my son is a fan of basketball so it was something cool for him too. I marked off my dream and everybody supporting me in my life. To see that dream come true was pretty dope.

KB: Not many people can say they took a pay cut to play in the NBA. Good for you. What were the challenges of being a 29-year-old rookie? 

BW: Starting over again. You know, I was in my prime overseas, playing high minutes, playing at the highest level. Winning championships. 

When I came back as a 29-year-old rookie, I had to re-establish myself. Fight for the minutes. Show what I could do. Coming over, a lot of people who haven't seen you play in a while so you had to prove yourself to your teammates again and obviously the coaches and staff.

And then just being that 29-year-old guy. Being a cheerleader my first year was tough. I was always cheering on my teammates [from the bench] but it was tough at moments. 

KB: Did some of the Celtics vets make you do rookie duties?

BW: Hell no! I was 29!

RELATED: How Wiseman reminds Wanamaker of former Celtics teammate

KB: A few more questions. And this is a heartfelt one. What are you most proud of in your basketball career?

BW: Most proud of in my basketball career? Wow. Just sticking with it. You know, a lot of times where I actually thought about giving it up, being overseas, because I grew up really close to my brothers and my sisters and my family. When you don't see someone for so long, you grow apart and that part was killing me a lot. Not being able to see them.

Obviously, we talked and technology makes it a lot easier. I would say coming back to the NBA was the biggest thing because it reconnected me to my family, who I love deeply. 

Coming back and playing in America was definitely number one. 

KB: Congratulations. I’m glad you’re here. Who do you admire in basketball, either past or present?

BW: Who do I admire? Growing up, my idol was Tracy McGrady. And I love Allen Iverson, growing up in Philly. I love how [Iverson] went about his game. Every night, he left it all on the floor. 

KB: Who do you admire outside of sports?

BW: My mom. She was everything to me growing up. From our struggles, she always made a way. In the roughest times, she always made it seem like it wasn't as bad as it was. I definitely say my mom is the most inspirational person to me. 

KB: When the Warriors play the national TV games, do you know if your family's watching? 

BW: Oh, for sure. Even with the time difference, they still stay up. My mom would text me the next morning. It would be six in the morning here and 9 a.m. back on the east coast. She texts me, “Hey, son! We’re watching the second half of the game. I fell asleep last night!” They definitely support me. It’s unbelievable. They keep me going.

Follow Kerith on Twitter @KerithBurke and on Instagram @warriorskerith, and, of course, watch her on NBC Sports Bay Area’s Warriors coverage all season.

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