God welcomed one of his all-time favorites into heaven’s gates on Friday, June 11, as Bradford Galvestor “Brad” Ballou passed away in Atlanta, GA. He was 66 years old. Elon University knew him as one of their all-time basketball greats. Halifax County remembers him as a prolific Blue Comet cager, its long-time county recreation director, and as one heaven of a person. Gazette-Virginian editor Ashley Hodge wrote a great piece about Brad. She mentioned that Brad was a mentor to 100 kids. I was one of the 100.
Brad Ballou was a standout player for the Halifax County High School Blue Comet basketball team before taking his talents to Elon University, then an NAIA school. Ironically, his high school coach Bill Morningstar would also become his head coach at Elon. Brad, a 6’9” jump shooter, was a far cry from the NBA bruisers (of similar height) of the time like Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, or Dave Cowens. Instead, Brad was a finesse player with an automatic 17-19-foot jumper. His game was tailor made for the ABA, which featured nightly shootouts between teams and games that would make the average over/under of an NBA game today look closer to a pee-wee (bitty) league final score. Brad knew that his game was NOT suited for the likes of the NBA. But he knew that he had a chance to make it in the ABA. He also had a contact. Doug Moe, head coach of the Denver Nuggets at the time, loved Brad. He spoke to Brad about the possibility of playing forward for the Nuggets. Unfortunately, time wasn’t on Brad’s side, as the ABA folded, with only four of its teams merging with the NBA. Just that quickly, Brad’s dream of a professional playing career was deferred. But in Brad’s own words, he never sweated it for a single moment. He stayed at Elon for a fifth year to receive his bachelor’s degree. He returned home afterward and eventually became the Recreation Director. Fortunately for myself and countless others, the rest is glorious history.
Brad gave me my first job – ever. I was 13, and in desperate need of the flyest sneakers Nike had to offer. Shareon, Recycling Coordinator for the county of Halifax at the time, mentioned to her friend and fellow department head that her baby boy needed a job. Done. A year after winning the league championship on the gridiron I was a worker on the chain gang. I was eventually elevated to keeping logs on the games, which were then given to the local papers for their weekly rec league write ups. When I think about it, that was my first ever journalistic assignment outside of Linda Mercer’s Yearbook classes. I never got a byline, but the stats and summaries were all me. My job description later expanded to basketball season, as Brad kept me as a bookkeeper and clock person. Those days past of working rec were probably the purest fun I’ve experienced in life, as I met Brad’s nephew Rahgie (G), who would become one of my dearest and closest friends in life. G, my old elementary school pal Rob, and big homie Vinny had a million great days at the gym, as well as a million and one great days and nights full of capers throughout the Hali. I’ll always cherish those days.
Anyone who ever spent a moment of time with Brad will attest that he was one of the most prolific storytellers since Mark Twain. Brad always had a story to tell. Many were from his playing days for the Blue Comets and Elon. To this day, I feel like I know Coach Morningstar personally. Ditto for his teammates, including fellow HCHS legend Diffy Ross (whom I actually do know), who Brad described as the toughest MF he’d ever met or played with/against. Brad’s stories were rarely short stories. We regularly spent an hour or so listening to a Brad tale after games and activities were completed for the night. Oftentimes, Brad gave me a ride home. We’d pull into my cul de sac. Brad would park the car and tell another story, this time about a half-hour or so in duration. I rarely, if ever minded. Truly. It was a privilege to listen and learn from a person that I regarded as my mentor and family member. When I graduated high school, Brad was in attendance for my graduation party with a present in hand. When I returned to Hali after graduating college and in need of employment, Brad told me that he was at full staff, but he’d keep me in mind. Within a week, I was working five nights a week. I only worked for another year or so during my second stint before moving back up top for good, but I had a ball my second time around. Brad was still the same Brad I’d known since I was freshly transplanted from NY and began playing basketball for the county at age 10. He was still the Big Fella.
I could write for days and days about how good of a person Brad Ballou was. I’ve got plenty of material stored en mi cabeza. But everyone who knew Brad can attest to how great of a man he was. I smiled the entire time reading Ashley’s article, especially when reading the quotes from Felishia, one of Brad’s nieces (and a great person). Brad had a special ability to apply teachable moments to his stories without the listener initially being aware that there was even a lesson being taught. He really did have the Mr. Miyagi effect. The greatness of this is that (personally speaking), its efficacy would reveal itself at the most unlikely times. I found that his stories are embedded in the moral fabric of who I am as a human being. I always thought that him standing under the rim flat-footed and pulling the nets showed that Brad was bigger than life, or perhaps how even at 50+ he could out shoot some of the best young ballers the county of Halifax had to offer. But in retrospect, it was who he was that made him bigger than life. Brad Ballou really was a good man. Rather, he was a great man.
It really hurt me that I couldn’t make it down to Brad’s memorial a couple days ago. I had been told on short notice about the ceremony, and well after the fact about his passing. It wasn’t feasible to make it down and back home in such a short amount of time. It kind of hurt, nevertheless. I’d recently been trying to get in touch with Brad to check in, but the number I had for him was the number to the rec office. Trust, I wanted to be down in the dumps this past weekend. But I knew that if Brad could relay one final message, he’d insist that I didn’t. He would have told me to live on, live strong, and to enjoy every single moment. That’s how he lived his life. I love you Big Fella. I always will. I will happily carry the torch as chief griot. You trained me well.