Elton Brand remembers his last Disney On Ice road trip as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.The Sixers went 3-2 over their five-game road trip that kick-started the lockout-shortened season and subsequently overlapped New Year's Eve.
He'll never forget the legendary late-night text messages former Sixers head coach Doug Collins would send him, either.
"He'd text us on the road at 3 a.m. He'd say, ‘Hey, Sugar Bear. Big day tomorrow,'" Brand told Liberty Ballers following the Atlanta Hawks' 105-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. "He said I was like a Sugar Bear looking for the ball, like I was chasing honey. He'd text us a lot. He's just a passionate guy."
Brand said Collins, now an analyst for ESPN, still texts him on occasion. The Duke product is amidst his second year with Atlanta and his 16th in the league. As is the same with nearly the entire 2011-12 Sixers team, he fondly reminisces about their run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
He's still in close contact with Lou Williams, as the two were teammates in Atlanta last season. He talks to Spencer Hawes on occasion, as is the same with Andre Iguodala and Mo Speights in Golden State and Thad Young in Minnesota. Brand said he even still frequently talks to Tony Battie, who the Sixers players nicknamed "The OG" during that memorable season.
Brand said he looks around the league, sees many of that team's key contributors thriving on playoff contenders and wonders whether that core group could have continued to rise up the Eastern Conference, especially now that, in his opinion, Nikola Vucevic has emerged as an All-Star center with the Orlando Magic.
"We went from losing to Miami in the first round to almost playing them in the Eastern Conference Finals. So could it have been different? I definitely think so," Brand said. "With Boston dismantling their team, Miami you see what happened, we had a good mix of young players and vets and you see these players playing really well in other places."
But of course, the Andrew Bynum trade dismantled that group. Several players from that team have told Liberty Ballers they expected that iteration of the Sixers to only have one more year together. Brand agreed.
A year prior, leading up to the 2010 NBA Draft, many players on the Sixers were expecting the team's front office to draft Kentucky big man DeMarcus Cousins with the No. 2 Overall pick. Then as Collins' control of the Sixers' roster moves increased, it became apparent Philly was going to go in a different direction.
"Doug Collins wouldn't have coached DeMarcus Cousins," Brand said.
The Draft night move signaled to the locker room Collins had assumed an extreme influence over the front office.
"Rod Thorn was letting Collins do his thing and coach thought we reached our maximum potential and wanted to go another way," Brand said.
Now Brand finds himself in the role he once admired Battie for fulfilling. In the locker room Wednesday evening, Hawks rookie Adreian Payne yelled "Hey, OG" Brand's direction, before tossing him the team's can of deodorant spray.
In the twilight of his career, three seasons removed from his tenure in Philadelphia, Brand has kept a close eye on the 76ers.
"Their future is to be determined," Brand said. "Because you've got all the draft picks you're stockpiling, but you got to keep them and they got to develop. Philly fans, they're great, they're passionate, they're great fans. But I don't know how much longer than can take."