Those who know Larry Brown can't help but like Larry Brown.
There's something about the soft-spoken, well traveled Philadelphia 76ers basketball coach that throughout the years has charmed fans and grizzled media-types alike.
Maybe it's Brown's puppy-dog eyes, wry smile and dry wit.
Or maybe it's the fact the 60-year-old Brown has been a winner wherever he's been in 26 years of head coaching on the pro and college levels.
"He has to be one of the all-time bright basketball coaches as well as a real gentleman. All my memories of Larry Brown are good ones," says former Kansas athletics director Monte Johnson, who hired Brown, then coach of the New Jersey Nets, in the spring of 1983.
Brown his 76ers will meet the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the NBA Finals tonight has just one championship to his credit.
That's his 1988 title at KU, which came in his fifth and final season on Mt. Oread.
Stories abound regarding the Brown and Danny Manning-led champs, who overcame a 12-8 start and much adversity to finish at 27-11 and No. 1 in the country.
One story that has never been reported, however, is exactly how Johnson managed to land Brown as Ted Owens' replacement during the NBA regular season. It could be an unprecedented hire. Normally, colleges lose coaches to the NBA, not the other way around.
"It should have been illegal the way it happened. It was so easy," Johnson joked. "What you do when you need a college coach is look for a coach in the college ranks. I lined up 10 interviews at the Final Four in Albuquerque (N.M.), which was a Friday-Monday event.
"I was getting ready to fly to Albuquerque when I got a phone call from a Martin Reed, who introduced himself as 'Spider' Reed. He was Clyde Reed's son, a legendary newspaper publisher.
"Martin was living in Denver and knew Larry when he was with the Nuggets. He told me Larry Brown would be interested in the KU job because of all our tradition here. I said, 'That's interesting, but I haven't heard his name as one who might be interested.' He gave me a phone number. I called, but there was no answer and no answering machine.
"The next day, I get a call from (announcer) Billy Packer," Johnson continued. "He said, 'Monte, there's one man who would want to be considered for the KU job Larry Brown.' I said, 'Have you rehearsed this? I just got a call yesterday from somebody, but phoned his number and Larry did not answer.' Billy gave me a different number, his private line. I called it, Larry picked up the phone and said he could talk to me on Monday.
"I went ahead with all the interviews at the Final Four (including talking to North Carolina's Dean Smith, who considered Johnson's job offer one night before declining). On Monday, Larry came in for a visit. I thought they'd sent an impostor. He couldn't have been more laid-back. You see him on the NBA sidelines, he's demonstrative, all over the place."
A couple of days later, Johnson had one of his top candidates an unnamed college coach on the phone.
"He was very high-visibility, a first-class coach, but sounded like he'd have to delay," Johnson said. "I told that coach, 'You need to get to your job and I need to get to mine.'
"On the other line was Larry Brown. He told me, 'My (Nets) owner said if I didn't get on the plane to coach, I'd be out of work.' I said, 'Larry, are you interested in being coach at the University of Kansas?' He said 'Absolutely.' I said, 'You've got the job.'
"I have seen Billy Packer a couple of times since then and again thanked him for what he did to help KU basketball at a time I thought was fairly critical," Johnson added. "To think without a true KU supporter like Martin Reed and a broadcaster, we probably would not have been fortunate enough to hire Larry Brown."
Brown went 135-44 in five seasons, still his longest tenure at any one place. He made stops at UCLA, along with NBA teams New Jersey, San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Indiana.
"I'll never forget my son (Jeff) was lucky enough to walk on his first two years at KU," Johnson said. "One time he told me, 'Every practice is a three-hour clinic.' It's that way with some coaches like Larry and Roy (Williams). They flat teach."
Brown actually worked for two ADs at Kansas, his national title coming in 1988 when Bob Frederick was aboard.
Frederick remembers euphoria following KU's NCAA Regional title victory over Kansas State in Detroit.
"I went in the locker room after we beat K-State to go to the Final Four. Larry came up to me and said, "I need two favors from you.' I said, 'No problem,' without even knowing what they were," Frederick said. "I started to think, 'My gosh, what's he gonna ask for?'
"Larry said, 'I need six tickets for Nike and I want to bring Jimmy the Bus Driver back to Kansas City with us.' I said, 'That's great, coach, no problem.'
"Bringing Jimmy to Kansas City (site of Final Four) was fairly important to him," Frederick said of Greyhound driver/good luck charm Jimmy Dunlap.
"We got some criticism spending taxpayers' money bringing a bus driver back home with us. Of course, the taxpayers didn't pay for Jimmy. Greyhound got so much publicity out of it they paid for him and sent us all (miniature) Greyhound Buses."
Brown was a happy man after KU's 83-79 title win over Oklahoma in April, 1988, at Kemper Arena.
"I remember in the locker room he kept telling the players, 'You guys will be golden,''' Frederick said.
Several weeks later, after declining a job offer from UCLA, Brown bolted for the San Antonio Spurs, ending his KU legacy. The Jayhawk program went on probation in October, 1988, for violations committed during the Brown years.
Brown's successor, Roy Williams, was able to overcome some stern sanctions involving recruiting in a short period, thus ensuring Brown's popularity at KU.