[size=18:515ce73bfa]Grant is Heat's reticent 'angel'[/size]
By Karen Crouse, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
MIAMI -- One glance at Brian Grant and you know instantly which way the Heat's fortunes are blowing. Because you can read him like a weather vane, it's easy to get the wrong drift about the power forward/center.
When he's on the court, his emotions rush as close to the surface as his blood. That much is true. But for all his demonstrativeness, there's so much more that Grant keeps inside, that he steadfastly refuses to offer up for public consumption.
The bottom line with Grant is this: He is deeper than the Indiana Pacers' bench.
For one thing, Grant has this thing about injuries. He will own up to any frailty but the physical kind. You say injury, he hears "excuse."
Somebody asked him about his health Sunday and he waved the question off with both hands the way a football official does an incomplete pass.
"There's no health issues," he said in the kind of clipped tone that discouraged any follow-up. Never mind that you could call Grant "the Mummy" and nobody would blink because of all the cloth bandages he wears.
Grant, 32, would have you believe it's perfectly normal to have chronic tendinitis in both knees and a spasmodic lower back and the pleasure of defending the league MVP second runner-up who is 2 inches taller, nearly seven years younger and as mobile as a car phone.
The way Grant has played Jermaine O'Neal, it's as if he's muttering to himself every time up the court: "Jermaine O'Neal is going to beat us over my decrepit body."
The Pacers' 6-foot-11 forward averaged 20.1 points during the regular season and shot 44 percent from the field against Boston in the first-round of the playoffs. In two games with Grant guarding him, O'Neal has shot 31.2 percent from the field and averaged 15.0 points.
O'Neal has not played up to his capabilities in this Eastern Conference semifinal series. He'll Grant you that.
Even Heat coach Stan Van Gundy, who can be stingy with his praise, said: "I think Brian's doing a good job of not allowing (O'Neal) deep catches. He's forced him out of his comfort zone. Jermaine's still more than capable of making those shots. But at least he's not in the paint, under the rim."
Ask Grant whether his defense has been the difference in O'Neal's so-so start, though, and he cringes.
"Not at all," he said, looking horrified that anybody would suggest such a thing.
The question, you see, veers into territory that Grant considers tacitly off-limits. He is uncomfortable bragging on himself. The way he sees it, he's simply doing what he's being paid ridiculously good money to do.
"Jermaine O'Neal is below his average because other (Pacers) have stepped up," Grant said. "They haven't had to go to him as much. I don't look at it as I'm in a groove or anything. I know any time he could bust out and have a 25-, 30-point game. I'm not going to let him. But he's capable of doing that."
Somebody asked Van Gundy whether tonight was a do-or-die game for the Heat, who are down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series. That question Grant really would have hated. He has too solid a grip on reality to talk about a basketball game in life-and-death terms.
How he came by his healthy perspective is something else about which Grant isn't comfortable talking. Five years ago, when he was playing in Portland, one of his regular visits to a children's hospital led to a friendship with a 16-year-old leukemia patient named Luther Ellett.
The teenager needed a bone-marrow transplant. Grant, whose first thought was, "There but for the grace of God goes my child," helped organize a blood drive. Not only that, he insisted the nurses draw his blood first.
Ellett received a donor match and underwent the bone-marrow transplant. He and Grant stayed in touch after the surgery. Grant would visit Ellett on occasion. He'd take him for a drive around the city or they'd play pingpong.
"We called him Cousin Brian," Ellett's mother, Denise Sayles, said by telephone the other day. "He was a part of our lives."
Two years after the transplant, the leukemia came back. Tuesday will mark the third anniversary of Ellett's death. When Sayles thinks of her son, she naturally thinks of Grant, too. He meant that much to her son, to her family.
"When Woody (Ellett's nickname) passed, my brain went blank and numb. I was in deep denial," Sayles said. "Brian was great. He told me, 'Don't worry. I'll take care of everything.' And he did."
Grant took care of the funeral arrangements, he took care of the bill.
"I was so lost for words," Sayles said. "It blew me away. It was like God sent this angel into my life."
Grant, who has kept in sporadic touch with Sayles since Ellett's death, didn't want to talk about Ellett on Sunday.
It's too painful a memory, Grant said.
Plus, acts of kindness are supposed to be personal. They are not intended for everybody to see.
That's Grant, for you. He's never more at ease than when the spotlight's somewhere else.