Archive for Friday, May 25, 2001

Sixers coach Brown has come long way

May 25, 2001

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— The lineage has always fascinated me. I wrote about it in 1999, during one particular blowup between Larry Brown and Allen Iverson, and I'm writing about it again today. I can't help it. If you were in that hotel ballroom Wednesday, when Brown received the NBA Coach of the Year award along with a special surprise, you'll understand why.

It starts with James Naismith, the man who invented basketball as a way to keep the lads of Springfield, Mass., occupied between football and baseball seasons. Naismith ended up leaving Springfield and becoming the basketball coach at Kansas. But he wasn't much of a coach.

By most accounts, he just rolled out the balls and let the fellas play.

It goes from Naismith to Phog Allen, the man for whom the KU fieldhouse is named. Allen learned his basketball from Naismith, and then he coached the Jayhawks, as well. And along the way, Allen became a giant of the sport turning coaching into a profession, teaching the zone defenses, pushing to get the sport into the Olympics, leading during the dark ages.

From Naismith to Allen, and from Allen to Dean Smith.

Naismith to Allen, Allen to Smith, Smith to Larry Brown. It is as pure and as telling a basketball coaching lineage as there could be one shared, by the way, with Milwaukee coach George Karl, another Smith disciple and Brown's current opponent in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

But Brown is older than Karl, has won more, and has a nomination pending to the Basketball Hall of Fame. It's just a little different with him. Naismith to Allen to Smith to Brown. My simple recitation of the names Wednesday in a question to Smith caused his voice to catch for just a second before he began doing what he's always done with reporters telling a story that changes the subject just enough to remove the focus from him.

Smith was the surprise Wednesday. The Sixers, so good at this kind of thing, plucked Smith off a golf course in Jacksonville, Fla., and flew him to Philadelphia even with a two-hour flight delay for the news conference announcing Brown's award.

Smith sneaked into the ballroom just minutes after Brown surveyed the big room and said: "Coach Smith would never accept an award like this in this kind of setting. He would never bring attention to himself."

A couple of minutes later, Smith arrived. Surprise! And after saying a few words from the podium and posing for pictures and greeting Brown's family and the Sixers' players and the rest of the Carolina mafia in attendance, Smith was met by a couple of reporters.

His first question?

"How many votes did George get (in the coach-of-the-year balloting)?" Smith asked reporters, who dutifully unfurled their press releases to discover Karl tied for fifth place with four votes. Brown won with 85 votes.

That's the essence of Dean Smith right there: How many votes did George get? Even on Brown's day, there was time to worry about Karl.

That thoughtfulness and caring bring all of his coaching offspring back to Chapel Hill in the summertime. One can only imagine the compliment it must have been when Smith asked Brown last year to consider taking over at Carolina to replace Bill Guthridge.

"I think he had a tough decision, because he hadn't quite done what he wanted to do here," Smith said. "Shelly (Brown's wife) had something to say about it, too. But when you're my friend...you do what's best for you."

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