CHARLEY: Willy, when're you gonna realize that them things don't mean anything?...The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell. And the funny thing is that you're a salesman, and you don't know that.
WILLY: I've always tried to think otherwise, I guess. I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that nothing—
CHARLEY: Why must everybody like you? Who liked J.P. Morgan? Was he impressive? In a Turkish bath he'd look like a butcher. But with his pockets on he was very well liked.
—DEATH OF A SALESMAN
October 31, 1983
All day long the colorless sky had brooded over Phoenix like a flat and ugly threat. All that remained as night came was heat lightning and the roll of distant thunder. Soon the storm would begin.
Just as Hubie Brown stood up and moved quietly to the front of the crowded hotel conference room, jagged bolts of lightning split the night air and the rain lapped at the roof in sheets. For several moments the coach of the New York Knicks stood in silence, his eyes closed and his head tilted back. The 75 Litton Industries Credit Corporation executives, who had gathered for their national sales meeting, sat perfectly still. Then Brown slowly drew up his arms and remained that way—in the manner of someone who had been nailed to a cross—until he began to speak.
"The toughest thing...in my life...was to be 48 years old...extremely successful...and to get fired," Brown said, his voice booming through the room. "Remember...every day when you get up...you're just half a step away from the street. My father told me that when I was young. And if that doesn't make you give a hundred percent every day of your life, nothing will."
Many in the audience had come expecting to hear a little uplifting chalk talk sprinkled with a lot of the usual palaver about the power of positive thinking. But Brown has taken Norman Vincent Peale, stood him on his head and dressed him in a brown shirt and a blue collar. It is not the dress-for-success look, but Brown is not selling success, he's selling fear of failure. He preaches the work ethic and the out-of-work ethic in equal measure. "I don't give them all this boola-boola, rah-rah stuff," he says. "When I went to New York," he tells the salesmen, "there were 12 players on the team. Before the first game I got rid of nine. That's how you send a message!"
As Brown speaks, his chin is stuck out and his head is tilted back slightly, so that his nose seems always to be the highest point on his body. His eyes are set deeply and they seem to be measuring something far away. When Brown was 10 years old, his left eye was damaged in a playground accident, and the resulting muscle damage left him slightly walleyed, a condition that allows him to see someone standing almost behind him. For many people who approach Brown, the fact that they're never sure which eye to look him in is often just the start of what can be an unsettling experience. Brown knows he intimidates some people with his long, withering gazes, which even his best friends call The Stare. But Brown was doing little staring and lots of selling, at one point even holding up a book called The Greatest Salesman In The World and calling it "the bible." After an hour and a half of preaching his message, Brown slumped into a chair as the salesmen responded with a long standing ovation.
Brown's message is simple: The street made you, and someday it will take you back. It happened to him when he was fired by the Atlanta Hawks in 1981; it can happen to you. Three nights earlier he was selling it to a thousand vacuum-cleaner salesmen in Syracuse, and before that in Schenectady and Gainesville and Daytona. "I'm no different than you," he tells the credit salesmen. But in a way they seem to understand better than he does. Brown is clearly not one of them. By his own estimation, Brown is better than everyone else. In the salesman's line, that is a dangerous thing to be, for you will spend your whole life selling, but never selling out.
Someone once said that Hubie Brown burned his bridges before him. That speaks volumes about the effect Brown's personality has on people. Brown makes little effort to conceal his contempt for many of the other 22 head coaches in the National Basketball Association, and yet he is plainly wounded by their disdain for him. He tells his players he doesn't want them to love and doesn't care if they like him, but then expects them to play harder for him than they have played for any coach in their lives. And he has waged warfare with the front office of virtually every pro team that has employed him.
"Hubie can't stand to have anybody above him," says Cotton Fitzsimmons, coach of the Kansas City Kings, who likes Brown but recognizes his flaws. "He can't believe that anybody else is doing as good a job as he does. Sometimes when you talk to Hubie you get the impression that he invented this game."
Even Brown doesn't believe he invented the whole game, but he did have a great deal to do with reinventing pro basketball in New York last season. In 1981-82, the year before Brown arrived, the Knicks had turned Madison Square Garden into a kennel club of yapping malcontents and strays, woofing to a 33-49 record under Coach Red Holzman. A year ago, no one expected them to do much better than that, but after a dreadful 14-26 start New York won 30 of its last 42 games. In the playoffs, the Knicks wiped out the Nets in two games before falling to the eventual champion 76ers in a series that was far more competitive than the 4-0 margin indicated. Three of the games were decided in the final seconds. In part because of the Knicks' impressive turnaround, Brown's salary was increased to a reported $300,000 a year.
Brown is one of the NBA's best technicians, a wizard of X's and O's. He started calling every play from the bench when only football coaches were doing that, and he was the first coach in the NBA to try to use 10 players in every quarter and to press for 82 games. He is the only coach whose substitution rotation is determined entirely by the clock, completely ignoring the rhythmic flow of the game. "We do a lot of radical things that pro basketball doesn't want to accept," he says. "But if you are an innovator, you will always be attacked. You can't ever allow that to stop you. The easiest thing is to just say you're going to let the players do their dance and let the talent win it or lose it. I want complete control."
While many of the league's other coaches recite a standard litany of Brown's failings, they prefer to do so off the record, a crutch Brown rarely uses. Denver Coach Doug Moe is an exception. "He's overrated," Moe says. "He's everybody's conception of what a good coach should be, but what has he done? His winning percentage [.497 in six NBA seasons] isn't that good. He got a lot of credit for what he did with the Knicks last season, but he had a great cast. When they were losing early in the year, he said it was because they had lousy players; and when they started to win, it was good coaching. Hubie's very insecure and an average coach who happens to be great at promoting himself. Plus, I defy anybody to say his teams aren't boring."
Brown reserves his greatest scorn for critics like Moe, and for most of the other former players who he believes are unworthy of his profession. "Who are these guys to attack me?" he says. "Down at one level you've got some children who were players—guys like Billy Cunningham and Kevin Loughery—who never coached a game and walked into jobs where there was all kinds of talent. Then you've got all the other guys, who I personally have no problem with. And way up here—so far from the rest of them we're practically on an island—you've got Jack Ramsay, Dick Motta and me."
Brown's island became even more deserted when he was censured by the NBA coaches association in September of 1982. The action came during a dramatic and bizarre meeting on Long Island following the playing of a tape on which Brown is heard criticizing Cunningham. On the tape, Brown told a roomful of high school and college coaches that Cunningham had been unable to handle a simple zone trap that the Lakers ran throughout the 1982 championship series, and that had caused the Sixers to lose. What made the remark especially incriminating was that Brown was at least partly right—Philadelphia hadn't responded with a consistent attack against the trap.
When Ramsay, who is president of the coaches association, gave Brown a chance to respond, everyone in the room thought that Brown would be forced to apologize. "At that point it was like backing an animal into a corner," says Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello, who was then Brown's assistant. "He defended himself the way he knew best."
Brown was practically trembling when he stood up to speak. "I told them, 'How dare you come into my classroom and tape two minutes of a three-hour clinic, then play it like this to try to embarrass me? How dare you? I do more clinics in a year than all the rest of you put together, and every time I speak I raise every one of you up to my level of X's and O's, just because you are NBA coaches like me. You think he couldn't handle a simple 1-3-1 trap? You're bleepin'-A right he couldn't! So deal with it and move on.' " He went on like that for several minutes. "There were 44 guys in that room," says Brown, referring to the 22 head coaches and their assistants, "and not one of them had the guts to tell me that I was wrong. I was wild. Jack Ramsay was standing next to me, and when I finished, Jack was as white as a sheet. I destroyed the guy [Cunningham] in front of the whole group. I destroyed all of them."
And he wasn't finished. Subsequently, Brown got into a fix over his criticism of Phoenix Coach John MacLeod. "I got killed for talking about MacLeod during a clinic, but all I said was that you can't expect to win a [championship] ring when your teams average so much more during the regular season than in the playoffs," Brown says. "When I speak at clinics, I use myself as an example, and if I can accept it, why can't they? What's wrong with these guys? They say they're in the stratosphere of coaching, but they don't want to talk about the possibility they made mistakes."
MacLeod, for one, didn't want to talk about it. "I have to wonder about the self-esteem of someone who has to promote himself at the expense of others," MacLeod says. "He sets himself up as some kind of paragon, but all he's done is load the gun 22 times. You don't think every time we play in New York or when I've got his ass here that I'm not loaded for bear? This is a tough job, and we just can't have that sort of thing."
Brown says he is weary of the controversies, and yet his honesty—which he frequently wields like a bludgeon—doesn't prevent him from diving into new skirmishes. He describes former CBS color analyst Bill Russell as "a moron," and CBS play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton as "a jerk," after having worked with both when he was out of coaching two seasons ago. Of the coach of the New Jersey Nets, he says, "Stan Albeck is a washerwoman who calls six people every day to find out the latest gossip. A nice man." And Brown doesn't stop there. "We've got maybe five general managers in the NBA who know anything about basketball," he says. "The other 18 are stealing their money."
Michael Gearon, president of the Atlanta Hawks and the man who put Brown on the street in 1981, says, "Is it a coincidence that in every [professional] relationship the guy has ever had, the friendships aren't there? In fact, it's almost as if they're all his mortal enemies. I think Hubie really has a contempt for people."
If that is so, then it is truly a paradox because Brown's hard-nosed brand of basketball has made him very popular with fans. "There are NBA coaches who are popular with the players, popular with management, popular with the other coaches," Fratello says, "but what coach in the league is more popular than Hubie with the people in the stands? There are people there every night just to see him." Part of his appeal is his ability to turn a word beginning with F into a noun, adjective and direct object all in the same vile sentence. "I'm more offensive in an empty building than one that's packed," Brown says. "In a packed building I'm known as colorful."
He was colorful in Atlanta, until the Hawks fired him just before the 1980-81 season ended. The Hawks claim they cashiered Brown because his abusiveness toward the players had reached a point of diminished returns. Finally, when Brown's harshness stopped working, there was nothing soft to fall back on.
"People say, 'You're too critical, you attack too much,' " Brown says. "But the real test is to hold your ground when they try to back you down and knock you on your ass. It's easy to be loved, but you have to remember that the only ones who really love you are the people who sit around that dinner table with you at night. Everybody else is trying to cover his own ass."
Hubie Brown was born on Sept. 25, 1933 in the little town of Hazleton, Pa., not far from Bethlehem and Nazareth. In the manner of Catholic families at that time and place, Anna and Charlie Brown named their son for a saint, calling him Hubert Jude, the latter being the patron saint of desperate causes. Hubie was an only child, and Anna and Charlie worshiped him and raised him like their own desperate cause.
When Hubie was three, Charlie moved the family to Elizabeth, N.J., which at that time was an industrial city of 125,000 people, many of them immigrants who worshiped in the city's 15 Catholic churches. "When I was growing up, you never talked about the street you lived on," Brown recalls. "You just said what parish you were from."
The Browns settled in St. Mary's parish, in a four-family apartment house hard by the railroad tracks that came stretching out of Manhattan, 20 miles away. When one of the old steam-driven locomotives rumbled by, not 50 feet from the Browns' front door, you could gauge its speed and the number of boxcars behind it just by pressing your cheek against the window and feeling the vibration in the glass. The Browns never had a telephone or a car, and in the wintertime the furnace warmed only three of the apartment's five rooms. Anna Brown rarely left home, except to go to church almost every day, preferring to stay in the apartment with her rosary and a damp mop. "We could never use the front stairs," Hubie says, "because my mother used to wax them three times a week."
Hubie and Charlie usually called each other "Chief," as friends might. Charlie worked as a foreman at the federal shipyard in nearby Kearny until the end of World War II, helping to ferry completed ships to Navy yards up and down the coast. When the war ended, the shipyards began closing down, and Charlie was laid off. To remind his players how close they are to the street, Hubie frequently tells the story of how his father was thrown out of work after 19 years' service at the shipyard. In fact, Charlie worked at the facility for only 10 years before he lost his job there.
For a while Charlie worked as a maintenance man at the Singer sewing-machine plant in Elizabeth, but when the shipyard reopened he decided to go back. Three months later the docks were closed again, and this time there were no other jobs to be had. "My parents lost everything they had," Hubie says. Charlie was out of work for eight agonizing months, a period of despair for both the father and his son.
"Then one day," Hubie says, as if recalling a miracle, "my father became the janitor at my school."
To this day Brown cannot talk about his father for more than five minutes without choking up. Rather than deny Charlie this most fundamental tribute, Hubie will simply stop speaking while he stares off into space, lost in a private reverie about what, for him, was clearly the best time of his life. "My father was a giant," Brown says.
"Charlie's whole life was his son, and he was always there," recalls Jim Murphy, a standout basketball player at St. Mary's during the 1940s. "When he was watching Hubie it was just like he was watching a little puppy." Charlie never missed a game his son played throughout grammar school and high school. "You wouldn't know Charlie was there," says Al LoBalbo, who was the basketball coach at St. Mary's and now is an assistant at St. John's University. "But he was there. Sometimes I'd see him watching our practices through the window."
To Charlie, failure was a very personal act of denial. That was at the root of Hubie's own obsession with eliminating mistakes. "A lot of Hubie's life has revolved around the fact that his father wanted him to have a better life than he did," says Hubie's wife, Claire, "and that he could make that happen through sports."
Hubie soon learned that you were never far from the street, even with someone who loved you. Once after Hubie had gone 0 for 4 in a baseball game, Charlie wouldn't—or couldn't—bring himself to speak to his son. "It's not like somebody stood there and said, 'I don't love you today because you didn't get a hit,' " Claire says, "but that's what it was. When a person gets all his sense of worth in that one way, in the long run it hurts the person's sense of self-worth. The tendency is to say, 'If I lost today, then I'm not a good person.' "
If there was one thing that Brown practiced even more seriously than sports, it was Catholicism. St. Mary's was run by the Sisters of Charity, and Hubie seemed to consider their stern guidance divine. He began serving as an altar boy while in grammar school, and he hustled weddings for tips. From the fifth grade until he graduated from St. Mary's, Hubie served a daily 6:30 a.m. Mass at St. Elizabeth's Hospital for a dollar a week and breakfast with the staff. After eight years of this, when he was ready to leave for college, one of the nuns at the hospital presented him with a card of thanks and $50. "You have to understand that in 1951, fifty dollars was my father's weekly paycheck," he says. "I was stunned."
It seems odd somehow that this angry man, the most profane coach in pro basketball, should have been most strongly influenced by these vessels of God. "Some of the most important women in my life have been nuns," he says.
After Brown graduated from Niagara University in 1955 (he was a low-scoring, great-passing guard for what was one of the top teams in the country), he spent a year as the phys ed teacher at St. Mary's Academy in Little Falls, N.Y. Like many of his Niagara classmates, Brown had joined the ROTC in college, but when it became evident that the ROTC guys were taking their commissions and going to Korea, Brown quit and was drafted into the Army.
Like many good athletes, he had a way of making the Army work for him. Stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, Brown spent two years touring the country with various Army basketball, baseball and volleyball teams. "That was a great time for me," he says. "These other guys were all coming back from Korea, where they had been freezing their asses off, and there I was with a tan and no uniform."
When he was mustered out, Brown returned to Niagara in 1958 to get his master's degree in education, playing basketball on weekends for Rochester in the Eastern League. That was also the year he met Claire and, typically, made a vivid first impression. "A friend who was a priest had borrowed a car to take some students to the beach," she says. "Suddenly another car pulled up and a man got out and yelled, 'Father Murray, that's the last time I let you borrow my car. You told me you were going on a sick call!' " Claire remembers looking up and asking, "Who's the maniac?" It was Hubie. Father Murray of the Wayward Car married them two years later. They have four children: Molly, 22, is a recent graduate of Auburn; Ginny, 21, is a senior nursing student at St. Mary's of Notre Dame; Julie, 18, will enter the College of Charleston (S.C.) in January; and Brendan, 13, is in the eighth grade of Atlanta's Marist School.
Starting in 1959, Brown spent five years coaching baseball and jayvee basketball and serving as defensive line coach for the football team at Cranford (N.J.) High School. After that he moved to the varsity basketball coaching job at Fair Lawn (N.J.) High School. The school might as well have hired St. Jude, because the basketball team had won only four of 36 games the preceding two seasons. "When I got to Fair Lawn," Brown says, "basketball was the prelim to the wrestling matches." The first thing he did was cut all the seniors from the squad. That's how you send a message! It was a move that, predictably, caused some acrimony among parents in the community. "I got brought up before the Board of Education for that one," Brown says. The team finished 2-16 his first year. The next season Fair Lawn got hot and won five games. Everyone seemed fairly satisfied that the new coach had fallen flat on his face.
Brown taught business, economics and business law at Fair Lawn, and it was there that he learned to use the classroom as a stage. "You're always selling yourself," he says. "Those kids had a choice between five different winter sports, so when I went in that classroom, I had to give them 55 minutes of dynamite, just blow them away. If I wasn't in the top three for Teacher of the Year every year, I was ticked off. That's how good a teacher I thought I was." For all the notoriety he has achieved in basketball. Brown has spent more time standing at the blackboard in classrooms than he has as a head coach in the NBA. By his third year at Fair Lawn he had turned the program around, and the Cutters posted what was for them an impressive 14-9 record.
Brown says he was happy coaching at the high school level, but in 1967 he decided to take a chance—and an $11,500 pay cut—to become an assistant coach at William & Mary. His salary: $7,000 a year. Eight months later he was offered the freshman coaching job at Duke, also for $7,000, and he took it. For four years he was the chief recruiter at Duke, whose coach at the time was Vic Bubas, and he had the difficult task of "trying to get the best white players with the high college boards." It was a chance to further refine his salesman's pitch, so he talked and talked and talked. "Guys in the business used to say to me, 'You kill the mothers,' " he says. "And I said, 'That's right, because all those moms, they like to talk.' " Talking was something Hubie Brown could always do.
In 1972 Larry Costello, who had been Brown's teammate at Niagara, called to offer him the job as his assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks. It is fair to say that Brown would not be one of the highest paid coaches in basketball today were it not for Costello, a debt that Brown readily acknowledges. "He gave me my start," Brown says. "That was big."
Brown worked with Costello for two seasons in Milwaukee. When Charlie Brown died on Thanksgiving Day in 1973, Hubie drew closer to Costello and threw himself even further into his work. It paid off the next season when he was hired as head coach of the ABA's Kentucky Colonels, a team that included Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier and Dan Issel. On Oct. 18, 1974, the night of Hubie Brown's first game as head coach of the Kentucky Colonels, one of the empty seats in Louisville's Freedom Hall was between two of Brown's old friends. The seat was for Charlie. "One of the toughest things in my life was that my father never got to see me as a head coach in the pros," Hubie says. The Colonels won the ABA championship in 1974-75, Brown's first year, but the next season they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. When the ABA and NBA merged after the 1976 season, Kentucky owner John Y. Brown decided to take what cash he could grab in the merger settlement and fold his tent. During this turbulent period, Hubie could not even bring himself to utter the owner's name, referring to Brown as the man who "destroyed the Kentucky Colonels basketball team." To this day, Hubie bears a grudge against Brown, who would later own and all but destroy the Boston Celtics. John Y. Brown is now governor of Kentucky.
With his team and his job gone, Hubie Brown was on the street and, presumably, frantic. As much as anything, that is what would later fuel the speculation—most of it ill-informed—that he stabbed Costello in the back by campaigning for his Milwaukee job. Costello suggested that Brown had done exactly that, and in the years that followed he repeated the charge often to other coaches.
Brown says that when the Colonels disbanded, he was approached by three NBA teams that wanted him to be head coach. He says he never pursued the Milwaukee job and that he had already come to terms with Atlanta.
CHARLEY:... For a salesman, there is no rock bottom to the life.... He's a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that's an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you're finished. Nobody dast blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.
The Hawks won only 31 games in Brown's first year, and in midseason Ted Turner bought the team and subsequently instructed Brown to get rid of all the high-priced talent. What followed may have been Brown's greatest triumph. Taking a motley assortment of castoffs and no-name players (Brown had recruited a 27-year-old, 5'8" guard named Charlie Criss from the Eastern League the year before), whose salaries totaled $800,000, Brown pushed and bullied and goaded the Hawks into winning 41 games and making the 1977-78 playoffs, Atlanta's first postseason appearance since 1972-73.
Brown's blue-collar image was forged in those years. He took his so-called "overachievers," taught them the importance of defense, and won 46 and 50 games the next two seasons. "You must make them play to their potential," he would say, "and you must make them cry for mercy." The work ethic that he preached had a special appeal in Atlanta, where most of the fans were white and most of the players were black. Brown had become a sort of working man's hero, an image that was sneered at by other coaches and even the Hawks' management. "That's a sort of demagogic thing," says Gearon, who was uncomfortable with the idea that Brown had become a bigger star than the players. "A lot of people feel the players are overpaid, and they like to see somebody who will kick them in the butt."
Brown was such a dazzling success with the Hawks that at one point Turner tried to persuade him to manage his Atlanta Braves. Brown almost went for it, but eventually decided the scheme was too crazy to work.
Even as the Hawks grew more successful, Brown drew further and further away from his players. "Hubie always dealt in groups," says Tom McMillen, who played with the Hawks during Brown's coaching tenure. "I think that was because it was hard for him to talk to people on an individual basis. When you motivate in a group, you sacrifice the idiosyncrasies of the individual."
One of the most idiosyncratic Hawks was John Drew, the All-Star forward to whom Brown regularly referred—both in front of his teammates and to the press—as "cement head," "moron" and "cinder head," those being among the least harsh and more printable epithets he applied to Drew. In a painfully public way, Drew had become the ultimate whipping boy. Brown never flinched from his role of bully. For his part, Drew refused to say an unkind word about the coach. But by that time, Drew, by his own subsequent admission, was a heavy user of cocaine. The season the Hawks won 50 games, 1979-80, Brown rode Drew mercilessly, a tactic that further alienated him from many of his players. "In terms of depression," says Gearon, "that year was the worst. That was brutal."
In addition to Drew, Brown blamed Guard Eddie Johnson, who would later admit that he had used cocaine, and yet a third player, whom Brown accused of being both a cocaine user and a homosexual, whenever anything went wrong. Gearon disputes the notion that for his last two years in Atlanta Brown was some kind of lone ranger crusading against cocaine, and yet he rather blithely dismisses the impact of Drew's erratic behavior. "John Drew didn't give us any problems after Hubie left," Gearon says. "He may have been a drug user, but it never caused him to be late or to miss practice. John Drew is a very stable person."
Following the Hawks' 4-1 loss to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1980, Brown says he spent $1,200 seeing a psychologist who "took my personality and put it into the drug scene." He says the sessions helped him cope with the problem of drug abuse. "So why," he wonders, "did I flip out the next year? I have no answer for that."
The Hawks were beset by injuries during the 1980-81 season, and for the first time Brown could not push his players through the pain. He spent most of his time very close to the edge. "My last year in Atlanta," he says, "I got so paranoid about the drug thing that I became distracted from my job. Every night when the locker room door closed, I was right in their faces, offering to fight them. I should have backed off, but I couldn't. In spite of the problems, I became more obsessed than ever with making the playoffs. I had no peace of mind, ever. You can't believe this creation of yours is being destroyed." The Hawks were 31-48 and in chaos when Brown was finally fired with three games left in the season.
During the months that followed, Brown convinced himself that the people in his suburban Atlanta neighborhood were whispering about him because he had lost his job. "He felt embarrassed, humiliated," says Brown's best friend. Rich Buckelew, "and he went into a shell." He began to accelerate the pace of his speaking engagements, doing 40 coaching clinics and another 40 motivational speeches during the next 18 months. (It is that kind of intensity, said Dr. Norman Scott, the Knicks' physician, that contributed to the mild case of angina and forced Brown to spend four days in New York's Lenox Hill Hospital last week.) He also earned acclaim for his work as an NBA color analyst for both the USA cable network and for CBS, although he found his experience with CBS somewhat disillusioning.
"Everybody thinks football is an incredibly complex game, run by scientific minds," Brown says, "and that's because TV analyzes every play with statistics, breaking it all down. Well, football's not nearly as intricate as basketball, but people don't realize that because CBS doesn't want that kind of analysis. Pro basketball is a beautiful, complex game, played by great athletes. But CBS doesn't want to get too technical because they think that's just for the junkies. They told me, 'Our audience doesn't want to hear that stuff, so keep it on a sixth-grade level.' "
Brown feels particularly strong about Bill Russell, who was one of the game's great centers in the 1950s and '60s when he played with the Celtics and who had done the CBS telecasts for four years before he was replaced prior to this season. "That moron has done more to cause the game's popularity to regress than anyone or anything else," Brown says. "He doesn't know anything about the game and he can't articulate anything. The guy does not prepare.
"Everybody was afraid to say anything to him because—ooh ooh—this is Big Russ. I mean who the hell is Bill Russell? The coaches didn't like him, the fans didn't like him, the guys at CBS didn't like him, but he was allowed to ruin the game. Bill Russell is a terrible human being."
When Brown became coach of the Knicks last year, a columnist wrote in The New York Times that after 26 years, of coaching, "Hubie Brown was home."
There was something smug in that, of course, and Brown heard the implied Jersey joke, even if no one else did. "Everybody tells me I'm where I belong now, but that's bull," Brown says. "I belong across the river. I'm a Jersey guy."
All of New York at his feet, king of the hill, top of the heap, and the only thing Brown ever wanted was to be a Jersey guy. "Jersey guys stick together," Brown explains. "There is a unification of guys." When Joe Taub, a Jersey guy who owns the New Jersey Nets, began hinting just before the end of last season that he wanted to lure Brown across the river, the Knicks gave Brown a raise and contract extension. "The truth is, I was ready to go," Brown says, "but the Knicks wouldn't give me permission."
It had been just a few months earlier that Brown had thought he heard the street calling him again. After two weeks, the Knicks were 0-7, and in New York that's not a start, it's an invitation to a funeral. Brown just kept pushing, and taking names along the way. "People say I don't ever forget," he says, "and they're right. Once we got it going [last season], everybody jumped to the front of the parade, and I was a genius. But what had changed?"
Some things never change, just as some people never do. For now, Brown is content to bask in the heat of his own genius. But another winter is coming, another season. And sooner or later a salesman has got to go back out into the street. It comes with the territory.
RUSSELL: "A moron."
ALBECK: "A washerwoman."
DREW: "Cement head."
LOUGHERY: "A child."