OKLAHOMA CITY — With all the coaches he’s met around the NBA, Oklahoma City’s Scott Brooks has no doubt who played the biggest role in molding him into a head coach.
Growing up in Lathrop as the youngest of seven children, Brooks never really knew his father. He had left by the time Brooks was 2 and died without a reunion with his youngest son.
It was up to his mother, Lee, to provide for the family — building and rebuilding automotive parts and working in the fields.
“You worked every day to earn what’s on the table, literally. It was a week-to-week thing,” Brooks said. “And I wouldn’t change it. I would not change it for anything. I don’t like the fact that she has suffered a lot of tough times financially, but she doesn’t complain and I wouldn’t change anything.”
The same characteristics that Brooks learned growing up are the same ones he tries to instill in the Thunder, who are tied with the Grizzlies 1-1 entering Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals today in Memphis.
Work hard every day. Don’t complain. Make the best of what you have.
“She provided toughness every day. Every day, she would wake up whether she wasn’t feeling good or sick. When you don’t have much and you need to be at work, there’s no such thing as being sick,” Brooks said. “To see her do that, it inspired me and my brothers and sisters. I was able to see that every day.
“There was no off days on her being a mom. She was dedicated. She gave her life. She never remarried. She gave her life to making her kids better off, and we all are better off for what she has done.”
When Brooks was named the NBA’s coach of the year last season following the Thunder’s best-in-the-league 27-win improvement, he thanked a line of coaches from his high school including East Union High’s Bill Stricker on up to Jim Lynam, who gave him a chance with the Philadelphia 76ers that led to an 11-year career and the 1994 NBA title with Houston.
But he saved the biggest thank you for last: “I believe this with all my heart: The greatest coach of all time in my eyes is my mom.”
“She’s instilled in me a toughness and a perseverance and just a never-quit mentality, and I thank her every day for providing me, for what she sacrificed her life for.”
Lee Brooks is her son’s biggest fan. She rarely attends games, but she’s always watching from back home in Lathrop. The 78-year-old still works every day at the family’s car wash on Manteca known as Dribbles on North Main Street.
“I don’t like to fly. I hate flying,” she said. “I’d rather watch it on TV because I’ve got it right smack in front of me. I pull my stool up right in front of the TV so I’m right up at the TV screen yelling. They can’t hear me but I’m yelling.”
And if she attended in person, she said, “I might be thrown out.”
Even if he can’t hear it right then, Brooks eventually gets her message. She’ll frequently call him or text him after games to chip in her two cents — almost always telling what he could do better while supporting his players.
“I tell him like it is,” she said. “I tell him this person, why don’t you tell him to step up and do what they’re supposed to do?
“In fact, I told him this: You shouldn’t be the coach. I should be the coach because I have the temper for it. He’s the calm, cool one.”
It’s always been that way. The most trouble she remembers Brooks getting into when he was a teenager was talking too much to his friends in class because learning seemed to come naturally.
But he was a hard worker, too. To help his family, he’d get out with his brothers and sisters to work in the fields “all day to go to McDonald’s for dinner at night.”
Late at night, he’d sneak into a gym to work on his game, sometimes until midnight. It was a habit that helped prepare a 5-foot-11 point guard for the work it would take to stick in the league for over a decade.
“I always hope to be like her. I don’t know if I can ever become her but she has instilled so much in me — just a work ethic. You earn everything that you get. You don’t want and you don’t look for freebies, she’s always taught me,” Brooks said. “To this day, I hate walnuts and I hate onions because on weekends when the walnuts and onions were in season, we were out there first thing in the morning and out there until the sun went down topping onions or picking walnuts.
“To this day, I won’t touch them, I don’t look at them, I don’t want them in the house but it’s because of that work ethic that she’s instilled that’s really made me an NBA player and now an NBA coach.”
It’s that “old school, no day off mentality” that has stuck with Brooks to this day.
“There’s so many things that she did and continues to do that a lot of single moms have to go through and fight,” Brooks said. “I really respect and admire single moms out there because that’s not an easy job to do, and there’s so many great ones out there.”