My Dallas Observer story ("Larry Brown Just Can't Stop") took three months to research and write. The story should have been about 4,000 words. I overwrote the first draft by 2,000 words. As a result, a lot of stuff was cut in the name of focusing the narrative. I understand, but it's also a shame because I liked some of the deleted material. And then, I remembered that I have a blog, and I could post all the unused bits and pieces. Here it is, in its unfinished glory.
Interview with Rick Carlisle:
“SMU pulled a coup at being able to get him here. He’s a friend of mine. I’m really thrilled that he’s here. There’s no doubt that he raises the profile of SMU basketball with his mere presence.”
“He’s a very unusual guy. The depth of his experience and the diversity of his experience is very special. It’s going to bring a lot to this city and to the SMU program.”
“Larry’s a guy who has always had great love and respect for the game, and a great enthusiasm for the game. I think this was a great opportunity for him to jump back in with SMU going to a new league, which is exciting and challenging. And they were able to put a great staff together over there too. It’s a really terrific working environment. And it’s a great city to live in obviously.”
January 12, 2013 – The entire game against Tulane is being played on the ground. Players are diving, clawing around for the ball. Tulane’s sophomore guard falls, having hurt his knee. He’s rolling in pain and pulls his jersey over his head so no one can see him cry. It’s an ugly game.
During a time out, Larry Brown’s face turns a darker shade while talking with his players. Veins pop from his forehead. The whistle blows to resume the game and his normal color returns.
With nine seconds remaining, Brown winces when one of his players goes for a showy dunk when he should have run time off the clock. To prove the point, during the final possession, Tulane hits a three pointer. What had been a 14 point lead by SMU was reduced to a 6 point lead in the end. SMU still won, but not in the way Larry Brown wanted. Brown appeared more frustrated by this win than the two losses to Tulsa and Houston.
Brown is pleased with another player, one of his bench guards who finally played defense. Brown opens his arms to the sheepish freshman. “Give me a hug!”
The move is thoroughly, embarrassingly dad-like. And when the player pretends to be unsure about the hug but yields anyway, it’s the playful dynamic of a million fathers and sons. For Larry Brown, basketball is not warfare. The court is not a battlefield. Basketball is family. Basketball is love. Basketball is devotion. Larry Brown, the young kid from Brooklyn who lost his father and was raised by a collective of men on his mother’s side and coach after coach, loves his vocation because he extends the definition of “family” to his wayward players. His love is so genuine. It spoils any attempt to be cynical about a season that’s slipping away from them.
Dean Smith hired Larry Brown to coach the freshman team. On Brown’s first day, he told Larry Brown and his associate Charlie Shaffer they need to cut the team down and to do it quickly, so they could focus on the recruits.
Brown and Shaffer took the baskets down in the gym and made the players run drills until they collapsed. It had the intended effect.
“Coach wasn’t an early riser,” Brown says, “but he came in early that next morning and said, you wanna hear the good news or bad news? I said, well, tell me the good news. We’ll probably only have about 30 kids at practice this afternoon. And I said, well, what’s the bad news? He said, I think we’re losing every scholarship kid. They all want to transfer.”
February 6, 2013 – The theme is to “white out” Memphis. Everyone is supposed to wear white in solidarity, but the concept is missed on the fraternities who opt to wear their Greek shirts to the game instead. In the lower section, a few students wave oversized Xeroxed heads of Larry Brown… and Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation. A student passes around a box of pizza to the others in his section. The two painted fans have returned.
The game is close. With a little less than five minutes left, Jalen Jones drives to the basket. Desperate for points, Jones goes for a dunk. A 6’9” forward from Memphis fouls Jones hard. The forward hits Jones at such a velocity, his arm sweeping across, that Jones is knocked head over heals. The crowd is on its feet before Jones hits the ground. Jones hunches his back to avoid landing on his head. The “thud” is heard throughout the coliseum. Jones rolls on his side in pain. Shawn Williams gets in the face of the Memphis forward. Nick Russell checks on Jones. Larry Brown looks terrified, angry, and concerned, reacting as a father might. Brown is on his feet, making sure none of his bench players take to the court, but his eyes stay on Jones who is still on the ground.
The Memphis forward is ejected from the game.
Jalen Jones gets to his feet. He is in pain and takes a few steps collect himself. Jones then walks to the free throw line to take his shots. He misses the first. Takes a deep breath and refocuses on the basket. He makes the second.
SMU loses to Memphis. Their winning record, from early season success, has caved against the other conference teams.
Larry Brown leaves the conference room to begin practice—down the stairs to the secret underground practice gym. His players are already there. Jalen Jones, Shawn Williams, Nick Russell, and everyone else, they’re running drills back and forth across the court. Going hard, preparing for the final games of the season, waiting for Coach Brown to make them great.
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