In the choppy waters of trades and bumpy waves of rebuilding, Brandon Bass helped keep the Boston Celtics afloat this season. He has shown the same commitment to children of the greater Boston area, literally, by teaching them how to swim.
For nearly 20 years Bass was terrified of being in the water. The drowning death of a young child he knew growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana had lingered on his mind any time he was near a pool or lake.
“I used to play with him,” Bass told Basketball Insiders. “I thought old people died, not a kid. That was the first incident that scared me about water. When I got ready to get in, I thought about incidents like that. I never took up swimming. I was just paranoid.”
Once in the NBA, Bass took swimming lessons during a season on the Dallas Mavericks. He got as far as learning to kick his feet but stopped shortly after. More than five years passed before he tried it again.
The Celtics approached Bass in 2013 with the opportunity to encourage children to learn how to swim through the Celtics Shamrock Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. At the time, Bass didn’t know how to float. He admits it took some convincing, but he agreed to get involved in the program in spite of his own fears.
As part of his participation, Bass began taking weekly lessons on his own. At 6’8, the power forward is taller than most on the court. Even so, he struggled away from the more shallow depths.
“I was scared of going in water I couldn’t stand up in past seven feet,” Bass said. “I freaked out when I was in deep waters and I wasn’t close to the edge of the pool and I couldn’t grab on. It feels scary. I’m a lot better now. I feel a lot more comfortable since taking swimming lessons. I’ve got to keep taking them.”
Over the years Bass has been involved with swim lessons at numerous Boys & Girls Clubs, participated in a standup paddleboard lesson, played water tag and visited an indoor waterpark with 150 kids. In November he presented the Perseverance Award at USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle Awards.
“For kids who don’t know how to swim, it might be uneasy or a little embarrassing,” said Josh Kraft, Nicholas President and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. “But then you have a pro athlete … and he doesn’t know how to swim either, it puts the kids at ease. It actually makes them feel more confident about learning, whereas before if they didn’t know how to do it, they were going to stay away.”
Hundreds of children have learned how to swim through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. When its Learn to Swim initiative began three years ago, 2,400 of the 3,300 children tested failed. Since then, just under 1,400 of the 2,400 have learned how to swim. Kraft says having Bass involved has positively impacted the results.
“It’s fun because he’s great with the kids,” Kraft said. “They love him and he’s patient. Even though he’s new to the water, he still is engaging and builds their confidence.”
Bass sees a bigger lesson than water safety. At 29, he is tackling a fear that had held him back for most of his life.
“I want to let kids know it’s okay to be scared of something and it’s okay to face your fears,” he said. “For older people, it’s never too late to learn.”
Bass also has plans for more events when the season is over. Until then, he is focused on helping the Celtics upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first-round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. This season he is averaging 10.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field for the first time since 2011. Bass has been a professional veteran presence on a young team, accepting his role without hesitation, whether in the starting lineup or off the bench.
He sees a correlation between his role in the water and on the court. Earlier in his career, he played with vets who told their teammates what to do rather showing them how to do it. Now that he is in a leadership role, he believes it is important to lead by example. In order for him to encourage children to swim, he learned how to do it as well. When he wanted to set a tone for the Celtics, he did so by stepping up his game.
“It’s all about inspiring and helping others,” he said. “That goes hand-in-hand on the basketball court.”
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