Douglas brothers united in good, bad times

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
11:30
AM ET
Harry and Toney DouglasVaughn McClure/ESPN.comHarry and Toney Douglas caught up before a Warriors game in Atlanta last week.
ATLANTA -- The one-on-one clashes between the brothers have been on hiatus for a few years, but those fierce encounters remain fresh in the mind of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas.

Growing up in Jonesboro, Ga., Douglas often got the best of the kid born 18 months after him: his little brother, Toney Douglas, a guard for the Golden State Warriors.

"Oh yeah, I used to give it to no matter who it was," Harry said, briefly boasting about his basketball skills. "The last time my brother and I played was the year before I tore my ACL. I'd go down to Tallahassee and for conditioning we'd play full-court one-on-one. But after a certain while, I couldn't beat him anymore. He was just too big and too strong. And we were just playing street ball, so there was no fouls or nothing like that."

Toney, who played collegiately first at Auburn and then transferred to Florida State in Tallahassee, snickered as he reflected on brotherly battles in the backyard and inside the Jonesboro High gym. Then he pondered whether his older brother would have been talented enough to follow the same NBA path.

"Yeah, because he's real athletic," Toney said. "But the reason Harry chose football is because he loved the physical contact. If he played basketball now, he would foul out. He's too physical."

The brothers shared an arena once again last Friday, yet only one had a ball in hand. Toney Douglas, 27, and the Warriors made their lone trip to Atlanta this season to face the Hawks. Harry Douglas, 29, hurried downtown in time to share a few moments with his "best friend" before tipoff of the Warriors' 101-100 victory.

[+] EnlargeHarry Douglas
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesInjuries to the Falcons' starting receivers pushed Harry Douglas into the spotlight this season, and he responded with 1,067 receiving yards.
The Douglases bear a striking resemblance, although the 6-foot-2 Toney is a couple of inches taller and about 15 pounds heavier. And while Harry's vibrant personality is easy to detect, Toney seems more reserved and maybe even a tad shy.

"I'm outgoing and I express myself a lot. He's like chill, relaxed and calm," Harry said. "We complement each other. When he needs that fire, I give it to him. When I need that calmness, he gives it to me."

The Douglas boys have stood by each other through the best of times. They've leaned on each other during the most trying circumstances.

Harry suffered a torn ACL at training camp in 2009 and missed an entire NFL season. His brother put his post-NBA draft workouts on the back burner to be by Harry's side.

"I just wanted to be with him and tell him to focus on his rehab," Toney said. "ACL rehab is really a whole full year to heal, mentally and physically. I'm always going to be there for him as support, no matter what. He was the same way with me when I tore my labrum in New York. I had surgery [in May 2011]. He came to be with me and got me through it, just like a big brother.

"Hey, I can't see myself in life without him -- in every aspect."

Toney, drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers late in the first round in 2009 and then immediately traded to New York, had his own trials and tribulations with the Knicks. He was the starting point guard at the beginning of his third season, then saw his playing time gradually diminish before becoming a complete afterthought once Jeremy Lin emerged and "Linsanity" consumed the city.

Toney kept his sanity by heeding his brother's advice.

"He always tells me no matter what, go to work every day," said Toney, who was traded to the Houston Rockets after that 2011-12 season. "He told me, 'Don't let anybody see you down.' I was being a good teammate, no matter what. I could only control what I could control. At the end of the day, I know I'm going to be a player in this league for a long time."

Harry viewed his brother's demotion from a different perspective. It ticked him off.

"Was I mad? Yeah," he said. "I mean, stuff like that makes me mad because my little brother is a sensitive subject to me, period. Whenever I feel like things aren't going well for my brother, I get upset about it. But I don't ever question a coach or what they decide to do. I just tell my brother, 'No matter what, when you get in there, just do whatever you can to help the team.'"

Such selfless values were instilled at an early age. Both credit their parents, Harry III and Stephanie, for molding them into the men they are today. Their father, an entrepreneur who used to scout high school basketball players, once published a recruiting magazine called "Youth Prep Stars." The elder Douglas also assembled an AAU basketball team that at one time included Toney at point guard and current Rockets big man Dwight Howard as the off-guard when Howard was just 5-foot-6.

"My dad was real strict," Toney said. "But at the end of the day, he was always the person with us, working us out. He used to get kids out of the projects so we could have a team and go and play in AAU tournaments. And he would use his own money. Just to be able to see my dad and how everything paid off, now he can sit back and relax and enjoy his two kids play."

[+] EnlargeToney Douglas
AP Photo/Alex BrandonToney Douglas is trying to earn consistent playing time for a red-hot Warriors team.
The family figured Toney was on track for stardom from the moment he dropped 45 points in a grade-school game. He dropped football after eighth grade to focus on basketball.

Harry Douglas didn't even play football his freshman year of high school because he was consumed with basketball and baseball. Once his mindset shifted, he was determined to prove himself on the gridiron at 130 pounds, no matter how the odds stacked against him.

"I had coaches at my high school that told me I was too small," said Harry Douglas, who played college ball at Louisville and now weighs in at 180 pounds. "Or when [college] coaches came in, they would tell those coaches, 'He's not big enough. You're wasting your time.'

"But my favorite football coach, Arlen Batia, he believed in me no matter what. He coached the linebackers and he coached the punters, too, and I was also a punter in high school. He always would come to me and tell me, 'Don't worry about it. I know you're going to make it one day.'"

The guy who wasn't supposed to see football beyond the 12th grade went on to become a third-round draft pick of the Falcons in 2008 and just completed his first season of 1,000 receiving yards.

No one appreciated the achievement more than his brother.

"I'm very proud of him," Toney said. "I think my brother is the most underrated receiver in the league, actually. I'm not just saying it because he's my brother. If the ball is going to him or not, he's running the route at full speed. He blocks. He makes sure he keeps the defense honest. When you pass him the ball, nine times out of 10 he's going to catch it."

Toney, who averaged a career-best 10.6 points and 3.0 assists during the 2010-11 season with New York and tied a Knicks franchise record with nine 3-pointers in a game, is still trying to get acclimated to his fourth NBA team in the past three seasons. He currently averages just 11.7 minutes per night for a deep Warriors backcourt led by sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. An early-season injury hasn't helped his status.

The brothers feel each other's pain, almost literally. In November, Harry was in the Falcons locker room telling a reporter about how his brother had just undergone an MRI. Two such exams revealed Toney suffered a stress reaction in his left tibia, which sidelined him a few weeks.

The same day Harry discussed his brother's health, he ended up on the Falcons' injury report with a knee injury and underwent an MRI of his own, though he didn't miss a game.

"Harry told me about that," Toney said of the coincidence. "I was just praying, hoping that everything was good with him. And he prayed for me."

The tight bond between the two extends well beyond sports. They started The Douglas Brothers Foundation near their hometown, and the initiative includes a learning center where young students who can't afford tutors can receive assistance. Their parents handle most of the daily operations, and Harry is able to devote some of his time because he lives in the area.

"Even though I'm far away, I'm still updated with everything through emails, making sure I do conference calls and making sure that we get our foundation on the right track," Toney said. "We grew up in Jonesboro and Clayton County, went to school there, and our parents always instilled in us the value of giving back to your community."

After discussing the foundation and its mission, Toney paused for a second and considered another topic: What life would be like if he and his brother played professionally in the same city. They are the 10th set of brothers to play in the NBA and NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I've always thought about that, playing in the same city," Toney said. "My brother is my right-hand man. I would love to be in a city with my brother. But at the end of the day, God has a plan for everything."

The same scenario was posed to Harry.

"Toney loves his team now, don't get me wrong," he said, "but for me and my brother to be able to play in the same city at some point in our careers would be the best thing in America."

The Douglas boys already have lived the American dream.

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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