Why you should care
Because eminence and irrelevance are closer than you think.
Jerian Grant blew the roof off the Joyce Center. He hadn’t scored all night, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, down 8 with less than a minute to play, were headed for a crucial pasting by Louisville. Twenty-eight seconds and four nylon-tickling teardrops later, Jerian had 12 points and the game went to overtime. Five overtimes, to be exact. The 2013 thriller was the best basketball game I’ve ever witnessed, with the most electric individual display to boot.
Jerian missed the next season due to an academic issue, but brother Jerami, at rival Syracuse, was eager to fill the void. The younger — and larger (6-foot-8 to Jerian’s 6-foot-4) — sibling rocketed up NBA draft boards with a strong, All-ACC sophomore season. Seemingly out of nowhere, the third of four Grant brothers (the eldest, Jerai, is a pro in Lithuania; Jaelin, the youngest, is in college) had made it to the NBA. After an All-American season, the following year, Jerian was drafted 19th overall, landing with the New York Knicks.
Basketball nerds and 1990s Chicago Bulls fans (if there’s a difference) might not be surprised by the Grants’ early success. Their family is legendary — dad Harvey Grant enjoyed an 11-year NBA career, and his twin brother, Horace, played 17 seasons and won four NBA championships, 3 with the Michael Jordan–led Bulls.
Similar success, though, is far from a guarantee for these latest-gen Grants. In fact, both Jerian and Jerami are entering a make-or-break year. Jerami arrived in Philadelphia as part of “the Process,” a three-year span in which 76ers management took a contrarian rebuilding approach, snatching as much young talent as possible while fielding a roster with near-zero chance at victory. The team went 28-136 in Jerami’s first two seasons. He shined when provided opportunity, mixing solid statistics with flashes of brilliance, but experts believe he needed to break free from Philadelphia to truly flourish. On November 1, Jerami was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Philadelphia’s system didn’t play to his strengths as a power forward — he was asked to do very little,” says Brent Barry, a fellow second-gen NBAer and current Turner Sports analyst. Oklahoma City was reportedly pursing a trade for Grant for months, so he should have ample opportunity to succeed on the wing.
Similarly, Jerian finds himself adjusting to post-trade life. After entering the league to vaunted expectations, Jerian’s rookie season underwhelmed. As a scoring point guard, his best attributes are court vision and that “big shot” mentality. The problem: He rarely saw he floor. “We were all a little surprised at his slow start,” says NBA TV analyst and 10-year vet Dennis Scott, telling OZY that the situation in New York may have been too much for Grant. Desperate to keep his job, now-former Knicks coach Kurt Rambis had little patience for Jerian’s rookie mistakes. Weeks after the season, Grant was traded to Chicago.
Jerian looked ripe for a substantial minutes uptick in Chicago, the perfect potion for a young guard’s struggles in the league. Then the Bulls signed hometown hero Dwayne Wade and veteran guard Rajon Rondo, and on it went. In total, the Bulls signed, drafted or traded for six new guards after Grant’s arrival. Now, Jerian finds himself in an eerily similar position to Jerami’s from a year ago.
Mike Jones, the Grants’ coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, loved holding practice with his pupils. “Those boys, and their older brother, Jerai, were so competitive that they couldn’t finish a pickup game,” Jones tells OZY. “At every practice, they would get into a fight.” The Grant surname bore great responsibility; it also attracted countless haters. “When anyone doubted them, they put all of their effort toward proving that skeptic wrong,” Jones says.
Athletic brilliance can be forged in a myriad of ways. LeBron James was destined for the throne from age 15, while other players, like football’s Aaron Rodgers, spend years on the sideline honing their craft. What we do know is greatness must be both nurtured and emancipated. This season we’ll see if the Grant brothers’ roots take.