Seeing brothers playing any sport at a professional level is not unusual. However, seeing them do so together for the same team an ocean away from where they grew up together is truly rare. That's what happened to Billy Baron of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade when he got to play with his older brother Jimmy in the 7DAYS EuroCup a few seasons ago.
The Baron brothers, who are four years apart in age, grew up with basketball all around them because their father Jim was a head coach at Division I universities in Pennsylvania, New York and Rhode Island from the time they were born until he retired in 2016, by which time both of his sons had found their way to Europe.
"We developed this natural love for the game and it stayed with us."
"We developed this natural love for the game of basketball and it stayed with us for the rest of our lives." Billy Baron, now 29, says. "I don't think that my brother and I are blessed with athletic ability to play the game at a really high level, but we were taught hard work by our parents."
Jimmy, the elder brother, came first to Europe to play. He made his pro debut in 2009 in Turkey with Mersin and he went on to play also for Bilbao in Spain. Then he landed with the team where he would have his biggest success to date, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar of Russia, as they became EuroCup champions together in 2013. At that time, while playing for his father at Canisius University in Buffalo, New York, younger brother Billy had to search many websites to watch his brother play.
"[He would play] usually six or seven hours ahead of me, when I was in school and then college, so I watched his games during class," Baron remembers. "Sometimes he played when we had practice and my dad was the coach, so I would tell him 'Dad, we have to practice later and go watch Jimmy's game!'"
Then the chance came up for Billy to follow in his brother's footsteps. Since Jimmy had been playing in Europe for four years by then, Billy was familiar with the European basketball scene when his first pro contract came from Rytas Vilnius.
"I had educated myself on European basketball during that time: the clubs that are good... and I already knew that Rytas was a good club," Baron recalls. "So I had an opportunity to go to an NBA training camp but I decided to go to Rytas instead because I knew it was a good situation."
For the 2015-16 season, fate would reunite Jimmy and Billy on the same team, Spirou Charleroi of Belgium, where they would play together in the EuroCup. Despite the fact that Billy averaged 20.7 points, ranking second in the regular season, and Jimmy added 14.7, Charleroi did not advance. However, Billy still regards it as one of the highlights of his career.
"I wish we could have done it a few more times. Not being able to see each other that much, I look back at those times when we would see each other every day... We lived in the same building, I was on the second floor and he was on the third, and that year went by really fast."
It was a special season precisely because the Baron brothers are very close, even if they hardly see each other during the year. Having grown up together in basketball, they shared a work ethic.
"My brother really set a standard for me that I try and live by. I try to work as hard as he does, which is really hard to do... We push each other and it's really healthy," Billy says.
One thing that they have not done yet is play against each other at a professional level.
"We would kill each other," Billy says in a completely serious tone. "It would be tough to focus just on the basketball game."
Even though Jimmy, now playing in the French League for Champagne Chalons-Reims, has been a pro for 11 seasons, Billy is the first Baron brother to reach the EuroLeague. Jimmy had been set to do the same after he won the EuroCup with Lokomotiv in 2013, but a bad injury made him switch teams and he hasn't had the chance since. He was all for it, however, when the opportunity came for his younger brother when Billy and Zvezda won the Adriatic League.
"My brother really wanted me to come back and play the EuroLeague."
"Last summer, when I was deciding on what to do this season, my brother really wanted me to come back and play the EuroLeague, but he did not tell me what to do. He was so excited when I told him I would stay in Zvezda," Billy recalls.
Younger brother Billy is not convinced that Jimmy, now 33, is out of EuroLeague chances.
"He might still get that opportunity; he's in great shape," Billy Baron says. "But this year I am playing for both me and him."