Sixers' Jerryd Bayless won't let basketball define who he is

The 76ers’ Jerryd Bayless in his Manhattan home, where he lives full-time in the offseason.

NEW YORK — It was a little past 1 on a Wednesday afternoon and Jerryd Bayless was hosting a pair of first-time visitors at his luxurious residence here in the trendy SoHo section of Lower Manhattan. Hip-hop and rhythm and blues whispered from the unit’s sound system as the three conversed in the living room of his enormous loft.

They talked about education, books, his expansive African-American art collection — particularly the painting that hung from a living-room wall titled, “A Pedigree of Some Note.”  The conversation turned to real estate, New York’s top art galleries, and current events.

Suddenly, after two hours, one of the visitors noticed that the 76ers guard had nothing basketball-related in his residence.

It struck her as odd. But it’s not to those who know him.

Basketball is his passion. Bayless, 29, has loved and been dedicated to it long before his days as an Arizona high school state player of the year in 2006 and 2007. The Sixers will tell you that his competitiveness, leadership, unmatched work ethic and ability to cope under circumstances different from what he signed up for have all benefited the team.

But …

“Basketball is not just who I am,” Bayless said. “It will never be that way.”

Camera icon JENNIFER S. ALTMAN
Jerryd Bayless, with the painting “Afternoon Tea” behind him, in his Manhattan home.

Bayless, who lives full-time in New York in the offseason, is a real estate owner back in his hometown of Phoenix. He’s taking online classes this semester at the University of Arizona, where he’s 27 credits shy of getting his bachelor’s degree in Afro-American history. Bayless also reads the New York Times thoroughly every day before dawn. And he’s a philanthropist.

He and his mother, Denise Bowman, run The Bayless Foundation. It began as something for Team Bayless, his former AAU team, back in 2013. It has since morphed into a foundation that enhances the well-being of children through community programs that target general literacy, financial literacy and computer literacy. The foundation also provides holiday giving to disadvantaged families.

“You have goals,” Bayless said. “It’s kind of cliché to say it, but [my goal] is to make the world better and help people.”

Helping people is a Bayless family trait

It’s easy to see why Bayless is consumed with helping others, especially the disadvantaged. His parents, Bowman and the late Dr. Michael Brad Bayless, basically raised him and his brother, Justin, to be that way.

Dr. Bayless was a clinical and forensic psychologist. A trailblazer and advocate for mental health care in Arizona, he founded Bayless Integrated Healthcare in 1982. His vision was to provide quality, compassionate and affordable health care for individuals from all demographics.

Justin Bayless, 33, left a successful investment banking career on Wall Street to work for his father in 2008. Justin, who had been the chief financial officer of the company, found himself as the CEO two years after his father suffered a heart attack that led to his retirement. Dr. Bayless, 67, passed away in June 2015 after a second heart attack.

Since Justin Bayless came on board in 2008, the company has grown from a single location to five in the Phoenix area. Another site is scheduled to open in the fall.

Now known as Bayless Healthcare Group, the business evolved from mental health care to a more holistic approach by caring for patients’ physical, behavioral, social and emotional health-care needs.

Bowman, who has a master’s degree, is a retired junior college professor and counselor. She chose to work at junior college over a university as a way to better impact the lives of her students, especially those from disenfranchised and marginalized communities.

Often, those youngsters didn’t have a lot of support in school before junior college. They didn’t have books to read when they were young. Sometimes, they didn’t have many teachers who cared for them.

All that changed when they met Bowman.

“When I taught school and even when I taught college and was counseling, I always tell people I had a system formula,” she said. “It was high expectations with high support. So you have high expectations.”

Bowman and Dr. Bayless, who were married from 1983-99, raised their children in an environment in which getting a quality education and reading were a way of life. Justin accepted a full academic scholarship to Morehouse College, the historically black college in Atlanta. Jerryd spent a season at basketball power Arizona before applying for the NBA draft in 2008.  However, if not for basketball, he would have attended Howard, the historically black college in Washington.

“I told both of them all of their lives, most people associate success with money,” Bowman said. “But people that really do great things are significant. So really be significant and you will be remembered.

“It’s something I read from the Dalai Lama a long time ago. Significance lasts forever. Don’t say success. Try to do significant things.”

Mr. Significant

It doesn’t take long after meeting Bayless to realize he’s already invested in his future and the future of others.

A trip to South Africa with his father for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders after his third season in the league really opened his eyes. He saw poor conditions in which people were living while driving through shantytowns on the way to a child shelter. That reminded him that there are people here in the States living the same way.

“Everybody hasn’t caught a break,” he said. “I think that’s where the part of trying to help people, try to talk to people and do as much as you can kind of grew from.”

That, coupled with Bowman’s always being big on giving back, hit him. It was time to be Mr. Significant. She always spoke about how important giving back was for the giver, and not just the receiver.

“There’s no greater joy than giving back to people,” Bayless said. “I truly believe that. How you see their faces and you can really uplift and provide a spark for people is great.”

Part of the Bayless Foundation’s curriculum came from what Bowman witnessed at community colleges. She realized a lot of freshmen didn’t have college reading and writing skills. Neither did a lot of them have a clue about investing money, she said. So the foundation educates youths in those areas and provides computer skills.

The foundation really thrived during Jerryd’s two seasons (2014-16) with the Milwaukee Bucks. He worked with the Bucks, and went through different financial situations with young people.

“We would just talk about different investment strategies, ways to save money and things that aren’t tied to school,” Bayless said. “And realistically at a young age, trying to get kids on track to learn that part of their life aspect at an early age.”

In Philly, he has become a close friend to and mentor of Aniyah Ayres, a young entrepreneur. The two bonded after realizing they’ve both lost their fathers.

Ayres, 12, has been a guest at Sixers games and practices.

“I think she owns like six companies,” Bayless said. “The fact that she’s doing that, she’s trying to uplift herself and the community where she lives. It’s pretty cool.”

Bayless is also impacting the lives of his younger teammates.

He preaches about educating themselves through reading. Bayless also reminds them that it’s never too early to plan for life after basketball. He also talks about the importance of dressing for success.

“Whenever we’re on the road and he takes us to dinner, he always has a lot of advice for us, which is good,” point guard Ben Simmons said. “He’s been a great vet.”

Dario Saric marvels over how smart Bayless is.

“He probably got the biggest education on the team,” the forward said. “Not like school or college. I think he really put himself to work to know about newspapers. He knows about NBA contracts.

“It’s unbelievable to have one guy like him to tell us about how the financial adviser talks to you and how they react to other people in financial [situations].”

The Sixers say they appreciate his presence in the locker room.

Camera icon YONG KIM
Jerryd Bayless was brought to the Sixers to be a starting point guard. But injuries and team signings have left him in a reserve role.

Not what Bayless signed up for

Bayless hasn’t played since getting 8 minutes, 20 seconds of court time in a blowout victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 9. He has sat out 20 straight games entering Monday night’s matchup against the Denver Nuggets.

Sixers coach Brett Brown attributes Bayless’ lack of playing time to a sore right heel. However, the heel, which has been bothering him only in recent weeks, is something he could play with. Bayless has not been listed on the team’s injury report. He basically has become an afterthought at this point in the season.

That is far from the role the Sixers envisioned when they signed him to a three-year, $27 million, free-agent deal on July 13, 2016.

At the time, he was penciled in as the team’s starting point guard. Bayless was expected to be a scorer and defend opposing point guards while playing alongside Simmons, who at the time was going to be the point forward.

Bayless’ duties were expected to increase once Simmons suffered what turned out to be a season-ending foot injury on the final day of training. Bayless believed this would finally be his big break to showcase his skills after eight seasons with six teams in primarily reserve roles. Or so he thought.

Bayless had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his wrist on Dec. 15, 2016, ending his season. The injury had sidelined him the first 13 games. He made his Sixers debut on Nov. 21, 2016 in a victory over the Miami Heat. In the next game, against the Memphis Grizzlies two days later, he fell several times to the floor, impacting his wrist.

Despite the pain, Bayless made his long-awaited first start against the Chicago Bulls on Nov. 25, 2016. He experienced soreness throughout the game, his last one of the season.

While he was sidelined, the Sixers decided to make Simmons the starting point guard for the 2017-18 season. The belief was that Bayless would slide over to starting shooting guard. But the Sixers drafted Markelle Fultz, a combination guard, first overall in the NBA draft on June 22. Then they signed free-agent shooting guard JJ Redick to a one-year, $23 million deal on July 8.

Because of Redick’s salary and Fultz’s draft status, Bayless was bumped down the depth chart.  He was told that his job would be to provide instant offense off the bench like league veterans Jamal Crawford, Lou Williams and Manu Ginobili.

But that never materialized. Bayless, known for creating with the ball in his hands, was more of a Redick clone. The plan was for him to run up and down the court and spot up at the three-point line. Even though he was a 37.0 percent career three-pointer shooter, Bayless looked out of place in his new role.

On Dec. 30, Bayless scored 14 points during a stretch spanning the final two quarters of the Sixers’ 107-102 victory over the Nuggets. With the offense successfully running through him, he scored all but four of the Sixers’ points during that time. But despite being hot, he was taken out of the game during a Nuggets timeout after he had made a three-pointer. Once Bayless returned minutes later, his teammates didn’t initially try to get him involved again.

“He’s signed with us with a sort of circumstances and rules that have changed dramatically,” Brown said. “To his credit, he remained a good teammate, a good person. He continues to work.

“But what he signed up for and what has happened is not the case. That’s a fact.”

Injuries have also kept him off the court. Bayless missed six games with a bruised left wrist and six more with left wrist soreness.

As a result, he’s averaging 7.9 points on 41.6 percent shooting while playing in 39 of 72 games.

“This has probably been the hardest year of my career, no question,” Bayless said. “But in that sense, looking at it from a different view, the team is doing well.  ….  I know opportunities come and go.

“An opportunity will come sooner than later within the season, and I’ll be ready for it.”

Brown knows he might have to depend on Bayless, a veteran with playoff experience, in the postseason. If so, he’ll be ready.  Bayless is one of the hardest workers on the team.

Brown mentioned that he arrives at the Sixers’ practice facility between 6 and 6:30 in the morning. Shortly afterward, he’ll hear a ball bouncing in the gym. It’ll be Bayless.

“He just has a routine,” Brown said. “He is maniacal with his routine. If we got back in late [from a game the night before], if we get back in early, it doesn’t matter. He is in the gym.”

In Brown’s experience, anybody who has a routine or a rhythm in basketball also parlays that to other things.

“That’s how he lives his life,” the coach said. “That’s who he is.”

The regimented, focused and smart one

That’s why Brown is not surprised that Bayless reads the New York Times daily and three to four books a month. He would have expected the guard to go back to school, be interested in the arts, invest money and own real estate.

Brown said people with that type of dedication don’t just apply it just to sports.

“He’s intelligent,” Brown said. “He’s competitive. He’s prideful. He’s good people.”

All that became obvious when he talked about and showed some of his art collection in his residence on that recent Wednesday. He used that day to check on his residence, have a photo shoot and attend a meeting since the Sixers were in town to play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden the next day.

Dressed in all black, Bayless looked more like a model than a basketball player during a quick photo shoot in his apartment. Then he sounded like a scholar when engaging in dialogue.

Right now, Bayless is deciding what life after basketball will look like.

He knows that he’ll continue to collect art and build relationships with the artists. He could talk at length about his “Afternoon Tea” portrait by Toyin Ojih Odutola in his kitchen as well as the “A Pedigree of Some Note” painting.  Bayless is extremely thankful for former NBA players Elliot Perry and Darrell Walker and investor A.C. Hudgins for mentoring him in art collecting.

“They’ve really shown me the ins and outs of that world, and I’ve fallen in love with it,” he said.

In addition to seeking out more paintings,  Bayless continues to own real estate, make investments and give back to youth.

“I love basketball,” he said. “So I kind of get in a tough position sometimes. I do want to stay in this in terms of running a team.”

However, he’s not married and doesn’t have children. Assuming he’ll get married and have kids, he doesn’t want to travel and be away from his family as much as a front-office job would require.

“But on the other token, I would love to really build something on my own, and what kind of business that is, I can’t give you an answer to that,” he said. “But being an entrepreneur is definitely enticing to me.”

Part of his reading involves research into possible career paths.

“I still have time,” he said, “but I’ll figure it out once I go.”

Those close to him have confidence that he’ll be a success in whatever he does. That’s because they see Bayless as too resilient and tenacious to fail. From the time he was young, Bowman recalls, he has been very tenacious.

When Jerryd was two, she bought a book titled, How to Raise this Strong-Willed Child.

“He’s got a mind of his own, and I like that,” Bowman said. “I want them [Bayless and his brother] to be independent thinkers. Think for themselves. That can be good and bad in this world, but I’m not mad at him about it.

“I think I’m proudest of him that he can overcome hardship.”