So went the basketball pecking order among brothers Brad and Seth Greenberg.
Brad best learned the game from his father, and Brad twice earned regional MVP awards in high school. Brad caught the recruiting eyes of Jim Boeheim and Lefty Driesell, and Brad owned the yellow Plymouth Fury the brothers drove on their summer barnstorming tours.
Brad landed an NBA assistant coaching gig at age 30 and moved into the front office. And Brad drafted Allen Iverson and helped import Drazen Petrovic.
Seth? Little brother Seth? Oh, he was a fine player and aspiring coach. He was all-county in high school, lettered three years in college, worked 12 seasons as a college assistant coach and landed his own program at age 34.
Still: Brad was older. Brad was better.
But if nothing else, life promises change. So here the brothers are at Virginia Tech, Seth the head coach and Brad his top assistant, associate head coach if you're into titles. And here the brothers sit in a hotel lobby, their sibling rivalry long ago shelved, bantering as only brothers can, the older by two-plus years deferring to the younger, the older, dare we say, getting a bit emotional as he discusses the landmark season they're sharing.
"I'm more at peace right now with what I'm doing professionally than I have been in a long time," Brad says. "I'm enjoying myself more. ... I get a real thrill out of seeing the success that Seth has because I know how hard he works. I know it more than anyone.
"To see him have a moment like the Duke game: That's really cool. I guess that's the big brother in me."
Ah, the Duke game. The signature moment, to date, of Virginia Tech's debut season in the ACC. Picked to finish 10th among 11 teams, the Hokies (15-12, 8-8) are seeded fourth in this week's conference tournament in Washington, D.C., where Friday they open against Georgia Tech.
As the final horn sounded that Thursday night in Blacksburg, as students stormed the court and all of Hokie Nation marveled at the 67-65 upset of fourth-ranked Duke, ESPN cameras caught Brad Greenberg rubbing little brother's bald head in congratulations.
Watching on television from her New York City home, their mother, Marilyn Fleming, cried.
"The boys have always been close," she says. "They respect each other's opinions; there's a tremendous mutual respect and admiration. They're a pain in the neck sometimes, like all sons, (but) I don't remember any fistfights. Just wrestling and arguing.
"I remember once I raised a hand to smack one of them. They were sitting on the stairs. One of them, I can't remember which, said, 'Don't hit him, hit me.' I just had to laugh."
Marilyn and Ralph Greenberg of Plainview, N.Y., on Long Island had three sons - Dean, Brad and Seth. Dean, the eldest, may have been the best athlete, but he gravitated toward music, played drums in a rock 'n' roll band and lived abroad, first in Australia and now in India, where he runs a fashion design business.
Brad and Seth gravitated toward basketball, the game Ralph learned playing for Hall of Fame coach Clair Bee at Long Island University, the game that comforted them when their parents divorced. They competed on the hoop in the family driveway, along with two other sets of neighborhood brothers: Bobby and Don Dickinson, Kevin and Brian Doyle.
Arguments usually ended with Brad tossing Seth into the fence that served as out-of-bounds. Both were guard-sized, but clearly, Brad was boss.
It remained so during their high school years. As a junior, Brad, one of the best players on Long Island, led John F. Kennedy to 20 consecutive victories and the North Shore finals. The next season, sophomore Seth joined his brother in the starting backcourt.
"I inbounded the ball and he shot it," Seth laughs.
Neither was an elite college player. Seth played at Fairleigh Dickinson, a small school in north Jersey; Brad, despite recruiting pitches from Maryland's Driesell and Syracuse's Boeheim, opted for Washington State, where he decided after a year that a Long Island kid has no business in rural Pullman, Wash., and transferred to American University in Washington, D.C.
Summers of their college years were the best, working the camp circuit for months on end. They were counselors by day, gym rats by night, absorbing the wit and wisdom of Hubie Brown, Jim Valvano, Chuck Daly and Rick Pitino, to name a few.
Clothes crammed into boxes, 8-track tape player stashed underneath the Fury's front seat, they traveled from Pennsylvania to Ohio, from West Virginia to New York and back again. At toll booths the passenger would hook shot the exact change over the roof and into the coin basket.
"We had a gas," Brad says. "You kiddin' me? We were hangin' out with coaches."
After graduation, the brothers found jobs as college assistants, and again Brad progressed more rapidly. He worked for Jim Lynam at American and Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Clippers, where in 1984 Brad began a 13-year NBA run that took him from the bench to the front office.
In 1990, Seth secured his first head-coaching post, at Long Beach State. Meanwhile, Brad was on the fast track with the Portland Trail Blazers: scout, director of player personnel and, in 1992, vice president of basketball operations for the Western Conference champions.
Brad helped arrange for Petrovic, later killed in an automobile accident and enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, to immigrate from Croatia. He also engineered a 1991 draft-day trade that sent Christopher Newport's Lamont Strothers to the Blazers.
In 1996, Brad became general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and again found the Peninsula on his radar. The Sixers owned the No. 1 pick of the 1996 draft, and after copious background checks, Greenberg selected Allen Iverson, the smallest player (6-foot-1) ever chosen No. 1.
Iverson, three years removed from leading Bethel High to a state championship, earned Rookie of the Year honors. But the Sixers lost 60 of 82 games, prompting ownership to fire Greenberg and head coach Johnny Davis, both after one year on the job.
"I took it hard," Brad says. "I thought I'd gotten to my dream job and I thought I did OK. We drafted the most important player the franchise has had since Julius Erving or Charles Barkley. That bothered me. That hurt me, and it took me a while to get over that and move forward."
Brad foundered personally and professionally. His marriage crumbled and he wandered through several part-time basketball gigs: scout, consultant and broadcaster.
Money wasn't an issue - the Sixers owed him more than two years' salary and benefits. But happiness was an issue.
"I stayed in Philadelphia all those years, and that wasn't necessarily the best move from a psychological standpoint," Brad says.
Seth rolls his eyes as if to say, "Ya think?" Brad dips his chin as if to say, "I know, I know."
In 2001, Seth convinced Brad to join his staff at South Florida. After all, Seth argued, Brad first got into the racket because he fancied himself a college head coach. What better way to resume that job track than by returning to the college game?
"In some ways Seth was there to say, 'Here's this life preserver,'" Brad says. "I had to ask: If I go back to it, can I become a viable head-coaching candidate? How do I go from being a non-traditional candidate with this uniquely qualified background to someone who's a little more traditional but still uniquely qualified? It was unanimous: Get back in college basketball.
"I wanted to get back in basketball every day. I needed to be back coaching, every day, with a team. That's in my blood. I ended up getting in management when I was in the NBA as a survival tactic. You stay in the league somehow, and all of a sudden it gets better and better. Scout, player personnel director, vice president, general manager."
"The college environment is a much healthier environment," Seth says.
"Notice he said healthier and not wealthier," Brad counters. "It really came down to, the NBA is a small world (of 32 teams). If I wanted to be in basketball, I had to broaden my horizons and not be a prisoner of the NBA."
Florida nepotism laws forbade Brad from serving as an assistant coach and working directly for Seth. So he became director of basketball operations and reported, in theory, to athletic director Lee Roy Selmon. Moreover, per NCAA rules, he was not allowed on the court during practice or on the road during recruiting season.
But make no mistake, Brad was an integral part of the South Florida staff, wearing out VCRs to scout opponents and evaluate prospects. Seth accepted the Virginia Tech job two years ago only after making sure the state's nepotism policy wasn't as strict as Florida's.
Brad was back on the court teaching, back on the summer circuit evaluating, back on the bench agonizing and reveling - all within arm's reach of his little brother.
"It's different any time you get a hug from your brother after you've won anything," Seth says. "You get a chance to share it. But I'm also very empathetic. I understand his frustration. For a lot of years he was at the very highest level."
Virginia universities are no stranger to family head coach-assistant duos, though most were/are father-son. Paul and Eddie Webb with Old Dominion basketball in the 1980s; Charlie and Page Moir at Virginia Tech basketball, also in the 1980s; Al and Mike Groh with Virginia football today.
Brothers? It's rare in college basketball, but here's one: Barry Parkhill worked as an assistant coach for older brother Bruce at William and Mary during the mid-1980s.
"When you're sitting there (on the bench) and it's your brother who's the head coach, you live and die a little more," Parkhill said. "We were very competitive growing up, but I really believe coaching brought us closer. He's my brother, family, and I love him. But he's also one of my two or three best friends, and I don't know if I would have said that before we coached together.
"He gave me responsibility and said go do it. There was an innate trust there because I'm his brother. We had some knock-down, drag-outs but they were about (pick-up games), not coaching."
The Greenbergs profess to no knock-down drag-outs. But they are, first and foremost, brothers, and brothers argue, often in a language unfamiliar to the rest of the Virginia Tech staff: assistant coaches Ryan Odom and Stacey Palmore.
"Sometimes we'll be in a meeting when they start arguing," Odom says. "Stacey and I just look at each other and let 'em go."
The Greenbergs argue over style more than substance. Seth's maniacal, Brad's reserved. Brad thinks big picture, Seth obsesses over details.
Hey, don't take our word. Just return with us to the hotel lobby. It's the night before Tech's game at North Carolina State, and the brothers, dressed down in sweats and nibbling on cookies, are in rare form.
Seth: "You gotta have balance on your staff, and Brad's the voice of reason. It's real simple. I have someone on my staff that I know doesn't want anything but for me to be successful. There's no agenda. That doesn't mean I have to agree (with him).
"He doesn't think I have a life. I think I have a great life. He doesn't think I can enjoy it. I enjoy it, but I don't have time to enjoy it now. That's just the way I function, whether it's fear of failure or whether it's ... I just believe that's the only way for anyone in our business to be successful."
Brad: "That's the only way for YOU to be successful."
Seth: "No, no. That's the only way for ANYONE to be successful at Virginia Tech. Unless you're Roy Williams or Mike Krzyzewski and everything else is in place."
Brad: "Seth has an incredibly creative tactical mind. He really does. But his mind is operating at warp speed, analyzing, trying to make adjustments, add wrinkles. ... I might encourage him, 'Let's not add, let's just get better at what we do.' "
Seth: "This time of year, you gotta steal a basket. Every game's close. Steal one here, steal one there. An underneath out-of-bounds play, a fast break."
Brad: "I think it's also your mentality of always working to try and cover everything. You can't sit still. You want to keep trying to find more, more, more.
"I hand you a scouting report and it's 12 pages of plays and seven pages of personnel tendencies. And you say, 'You're missing the play they ran against Georgia Tech the first time they played them.' And I'm like, 'They ran the play one time and that was about 31/2 weeks ago.' I think you're nuts when you do that, but at the same time I love you for it."
Seth, waving the white flag: "I'll always be the little brother."
Marilyn Fleming's heard it all before.
"You don't want them to be clones," she says. "That would be boring."
Boring? The Brothers Greenberg? Not hardly. Not if you've got a basketball jones. Not if you appreciate a yarn well spun.
"They're a good couple," says Duke's Krzyzewski, a longtime friend. "It's neat to see two brothers working side by side like that. I mean, that just doesn't happen, not just in coaching but in life, maybe as much as it should."
Brad and Seth Greenberg concur. Their coaching partnership is temporary, their sibling rivalry history. But their family bond is forever.