Bradley and Thomas grew up just miles apart but made it to the NBA and started against each other last night.
Celtics guard Avery Bradley and Kings guard Isaiah Thomas grew up together on the basketball courts of Tacoma, WA.
What started off as a dream as middle-schoolers slowly became more and more of a reality. High schools turned to prep schools, prep schools turned to Division I colleges, and colleges turned to NBA Drafts. Bradley was selected with the 19th pick in 2010, and Thomas with the 60th pick in 2011.
On January 30, 2013, 2,500 miles away from home, the two stepped on the TD Garden parquet, started the game, and guarded each other. Bradley's Celtics got the best of Thomas' Kings this time, 99-81.
"Yeah that's my guy," Bradley said before Wednesday's game. "Me and Isaiah have known each other since we were young. We're literally from the same area, like lit-er-a-lly. His high school (Curtis Senior High School) is five, ten minutes away from my high school (Bellarmine Preparatory School)."
While Bradley made it to the NBA before Thomas, it's Thomas who has a couple years on him. Bradley said that he looked up to Thomas growing up, especially when Thomas got to high school while he was still in middle school.
The two never crossed paths in high school, though. By the time Bradley's school played Thomas', Thomas was already in Connecticut playing in South Kent School. Bradley, too, eventually went to prep school in Las Vegas - Findlay Prep.
Simply put, they had to get out of town if they wanted to achieve their dreams. There were too many distractions and negative influences at home.
"Tacoma, it's a great city but at the same time nobody's made it out of there," Thomas said. "So it was kind of new for us. Even me going to high school and then having to transfer to a prep school for my grades, and he had to do the same thing. He transferred to a prep school and finished high school.
"And then him going to Texas, me going to Washington, that's kind of the first couple guys that were able to go to a high Division I college; him doing his one year in Texas and me doing my three and then getting to the NBA. It was a lot. We were rooting for each other and we root for each other to this day because we're the only guys to make it out of Tacoma, and we have to put Tacoma on our back."
Bradley stressed the rare feat to get where he and Thomas have from Tacoma. They're the first and second to ever make the NBA from there.
"A lot of people thought we would never make it, because when I say literally nobody ever - not even a college - nobody [made it]."
But Bradley, who responded "definitely" when asked if he thought the two had targets on their backs growing up, said they used that as nothing but motivation. They bounced advice off each other. They encouraged each other. They would even work out together at times.
"That's why we always want to see each other succeed, me and him," Bradley said. "Being from the same area we just want to see each other do so well. I get so happy when I see him play and have a good game."
There was another player on the court that gets happy to see both players do well: Jason Terry. Terry, a native of nearby Seattle, WA has been a "big brother" figure to Bradley, but especially so to Thomas.
"That's Jason's little guy right there," Bradley said talking about Thomas. "[Thomas] and Jason are closer than me and [Thomas]."
Thomas is best friends with Terry's younger brother from their grade school days. Thomas (and Bradley) played on Terry's father's AAU teams since he was a young kid too.
"He's my brother's best friend," Terry said of Thomas. "So they used to be playing basketball in my back yard. And one night I just heard a lot of dribbling outside, and I went out there, and it was Isaiah. I think he was about in sixth grade. Ever since then he's always worked on his game, he's always just been a hard worker. I know back then he was real short, and that's what drew my attention to him, but he was handling the ball real well for his size.
"I just watched him at first, because he looked like a second grader, but he was in sixth grade. And I was already in high school. But once I saw him play, I was just like 'This kid might make it.' It was all about his work ethic."
And that's when Terry and Thomas' relationship took off. Thomas looked up to Terry like Bradley looked up to Thomas.
"That's how it is, we always look up to the older guy where we're from," Thomas said. "And Jason, like I said, is a mentor of mine, and I kind of tried to mentor Avery even though he got to the league before I did. At the same time, he's a great player and a hard worker, and I love Avery's game."
Terry doesn't have to go far to talk to Bradley. Terry and Thomas talk five to six times a week, and they both got dinner together Tuesday night.
"They look up to me as big brother, and I look to them as little brothers. So I share all my knowledge that I have with them, whether it be on the court or off the court," Terry said.
Bradley, Thomas, and Terry all stressed the "brotherhood" that is the Northwest region. While Bradley and Thomas are representing Tacoma, Terry and other NBA players have been representing areas like Seattle for far longer.
"Jason has been a guy that's given back to his community ever since he made it," Thomas said. "Tacoma, Seattle, whatever it may be, and that's just how the guys are up in the Northwest - we want to see the next guy make it. It's like a brotherhood up there. Not just with Jason, but with Jamal Crawford, Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, all them type of guys. It's really a brotherhood up in the Northwest."
And that brotherhood made its way to Boston, MA Wednesday night - where it took a short break, of course.
"It's all love with all three of us," Thomas said, "but once we're on the court we're going to be battling."