BOSTON — Dorian Finney-Smith saw Harry Giles III in the Nets’ locker room Friday and started singing the theme song to “Welcome Back, Kotter”:
“Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.”
When Giles checked in with 5:51 left in the Nets’ 127-101 loss to the Celtics, it wasn’t just coach Jacque Vaughn emptying the bench. Giles was playing in his first NBA regular-season game in more than two seasons. He last played on May 16, 2021, while with the Trail Blazers.
“It felt great. Just got to be ready any time. You never know,” Giles said. “I felt good getting up and down and getting my first run in a Brooklyn Nets jersey.”
Giles made all three shots he attempted against the Celtics, including a three-pointer and a fast-break dunk. Seven points in less than six minutes was enough to validate his pursuit of returning to the league.
It was a two-year journey that took him through the G League, a season-ending injury in January 2022 and workouts this past summer. The Nets signed him to an Exhibit 9 contract, and after he made the team, it was converted into a standard, non-guaranteed contract.
Giles didn’t want to reflect too much on how he got to Brooklyn. Coach Jacque Vaughn, however, was glad to do so, knowing what it took for Giles to make the roster.
“I just love his story,” Vaughn said. “It’s because I saw him as a young McDonald’s All-American too and the bounce and all that went along with it. To see him persevere and to continue and to give himself another chance at this beautiful game, I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
Giles’ story includes three knee surgeries before entering the NBA, including one before his senior season as ESPN’s top-ranked high school prospect. Most of his Nets teammates remember the player Giles was back then, so they admired his path long before he joined the team this summer.
Lonnie Walker IV called seeing Giles play a beautiful thing. Cam Johnson, who returned Friday after missing seven games because of a strained left calf, gave Giles credit for how smooth he looked after not playing since the Nets’ second preseason game.
“He came in, contributed right away, played with confidence — you know, that quick seven [points] — so I’m proud of him,” Johnson said. “And you know, you have to respect anybody that’s just staying ready, and he was ready. Number was called and made an impact on the game.”
Although the Nets have battled injuries, it’s mostly been among their guards. The 6-11 Giles has been tethered to the bench as Dorian Finney-Smith and Day’Ron Sharpe have absorbed most of the minutes at center.
At the same time, he’s remained a positive presence in the locker room. After spending time on two other NBA teams, he understands the value of doing your job and being available when his time is called.
After almost 2 1⁄2 years, that call finally came in an NBA game. Now Giles is looking ahead to what he can do instead of looking back at how far he came.
“I leave all that in the past. Now it’s time to move forward and embark on this new journey,” he said. “It’s just the first step right now, so I’m excited to get it going.”