Two days ago, I posted deleted scenes from my Dallas Observer story ("Larry Brown Just Can't Stop"). I gathered a lot of material during the research process that, while interesting, I wasn't able to use. Larry Brown is such an integral part of basketball history -- it would be a shame not to share what I was given. Here are some unused portions of my interview on February 13, 2013 with Coach Brown.
Your first pro-team was the Akron Wingfoots [sponsored by the Goodyear Tire Company in Akron, Ohio]?
Wasn’t a pro-team. I got drafted. I think I was the 54th pick in the draft [according to Basketball-Reference.com, he was the 55th pick], but at that time, if you tried out for a team, if you even went to one practice, you were a pro. And there were very few pro teams at the time. And then, there was a tremendous AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] program. You know, Goodyear, Phillips 66, Peoria Caterpillars, you could play ball and get a career, you know start a career. Coach Smith got me a tryout. He had me going to Phillips 66, but for some reason it didn’t pan out. I thought I had a job at Goodyear, and I ended up having to try out actually. I made the team. You played ball and then after work you got to practice. And then, if you had a game, the company gave you off to play games. We played like 50, 60 games. We ended up beating Phillips in the finals in the first tournament, which was a big thrill for me. But it was a great experience, and then four of us made the Olympic team from Goodyear. We won the Olympic trials. It was a great experience. And I probably could have stayed and played for a number of years, but Coach Smith asked me to come back after the Olympics and coach. Worked out great.
Where were you when you found out you’d be going to the Olympics?
I don’t’ know, but we had to try out. We tried out at Saint John’s which was at that time, they had the Olympics trials, they had three NCAA teams, they had two AAU teams, they had an armed forces team, they had an NAIA team, and I think they had a junior college team, and we played a tournament, but we ended up playing the three NCAA teams. They had twelve All-America, thirty-six guys, thirty-six best college guys, and we ended up winning the trials. And I remember, my coach at Goodyear was the assistant Olympic coach, and he told me after the second night that he thought I made the team, but don’t tell anybody. And then, I remember after the third game, we were all staying at a hotel, and they posted the names of the guys who made it. And that was maybe as big a thrill as I’ve ever had, being selected, that blew me away, because guys like Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Gale Goodrich, Jerry Sloan, Willis Reed, a lot of those guys didn’t even make it, and here I ended up making it. It was pretty amazing.
You defeated the Soviet Union in the final game. During the Cold War, was that a particularly sweet victory?
When I got selected, I got to go over to Russia to play. We played in Russia and played in four cities in Russia, and then we played in France, played in Czechoslovakia, and Poland. But the Russia team lost to that great team in 1960 and they had everybody back, and so it was kinda like we were playing against pros. They were a pretty incredible team. It was a huge victory. I got to play pretty significant role in the game, which was pretty neat. That was I guess the Cold War was at its height at that time, but I went over just prior to that, prior to the Olympic games, and I remember how talented the teams were, and how talented their team was, and what a rivalry it was going to be, so it was pretty amazing.
I got to take a team over in 1974 as a coach in a similar trip. It was pretty amazing as well.
When you entered the ABA, it was in its first year?
What were your thoughts about this new league that was starting?
The first thing is I wouldn’t have even been thought of as a player, but Doug Moe was playing in Europe and he was probably as good a player as there was in Europe, and he, I don’t know, if they had a draft or not but New Orleans had his rights and he told them that if he signed, he wanted me signed. I talked to Coach Smith about it. He thought I was crazy, because I was offered the Connecticut job at 26 after my first year at Carolina as a coach. The football coach Jim Hickey became the AD [athletic director] at Connecticut and he offered me the job. I didn’t think I was ready. Coach thought I was and wanted me to take it. But I came back and Coach, the ABA started, I guess New Orleans wanted Doug to sign. Doug said he’ll only sign if they would take me. I went to Coach he thought I was crazy. He thought I’m going to get a great job, this is the way I want my career to be, this will just be a road block, he thought I could move quickly. But I said I wanted to play. And he said, someday you won’t be able to play, so maybe this would be the right thing. I ended up playing. It was the beginning of the ABA.
You were the MVP of the first All-Star Game and also an assist leader in the league. What were some of the lessons you learned playing in the ABA?
I learn from every experience I ever had. I had a great coach in New Orleans. I had great coaches throughout the ABA, Babe McCarthy in New Orleans, Alex Hannum. I played with great players, played for great coaches. If you don’t learn from experiences like that, it’s kinda silly. I love to play, I love to coach so— to be paid to play was ridiculous to me. I felt pretty fortunate.
Look around our profession now. Everybody leaves. But I know everybody tries to—I was just on the Tim Brando Show. I love him. He’s always been great to me. He made a comment about people wonder why you leave, Larry, and I always thought you left because you wanted to go some place to win. And I said, no, I’ve had reasons to leave and they’ve all been different. Some were my choosing and some weren’t. But at the end of the day, I think that’s the nature of the profession. Guys change jobs. Yeah, I’d love to be like Coach Smith. I’d love to have spent 36 in UCLA, North Carolina, or Kansas. But every experience I’ve had has been pretty special. I’ve got a lot out of them, and I’ve hopefully made them better.
You led a freshman-dominated UCLA team to the NCAA title game and lost. But it was a tremendous accomplishment. But in sports, 2nd place is most scrutinized. How do you help your players keep a healthy perspective on what they had accomplished?
UCLA was different, because they went to ten Final Fours and won them all or something like that with Coach Wooden. I remember after the game. I had set a lot of records at UCLA. I lost the first home game there. I lost the first two in a row at home. I was setting these records. But I remember after that game, when have two freshmen guards ever played in the Final Four, were started? We had four freshmen, a 6’5” sophomore, and two seniors—basically making our first seven. I thought it was an amazing accomplishment just going, based on the way the season started, and the make up of the team, and what we lost the year before I got there. And I wanted the kids to understand that and appreciate that. And what really hit home for me was when we went to that practice before the Final Four, the first person I met walking into the practice was Ray Meyer and we beat them in a second round game and they were the number one team in the nation, only lost one game. I didn’t even realize he had never been to a Final Four and he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time. Then Coach Smith grabbed me, hugged me, and told me how great it was, and how proud he was of me, and he was a great a coach as there was, and he at that time, hadn’t won a national championship. That blew me away. And then I saw Coach McGuire and he had won in 1957, I remember how much he cherished that championship. And here I am, my first year, at the final game, the Final Four. I wanted to make sure I understood how we were, and the kids how special they were. I wanted them to know that.
Then coaching at the University of Kansas, you won the Final Four.
We went in 86. That was our best team, and we got caught up in the thunderstorm. We had three kids foul out, one of my kids torn his ACL in the game we lost, and we lost in the last seconds to Duke. I think Duke shot 35 free throws to our 11, and that was a special, special team and in 86  it was so unexpected, we had lost five games in a row that season, and ended up winning it all. We had the best player, Danny [Manning]. We had a special group of guys. That was a pretty neat thing.
In the NBA, you were known for turning franchises around (Spurs, Nets, Clippers, Charlotte). How do you change the culture of a franchise?
The only team I took over with a winning record was Detroit. Carlisle and Dumas set that one up. Rick had great values and a lot of things I believed in were already in place, and then Joe put a special team together. But everywhere I’ve been, I just try to remember what I was taught by the players I got to coach, and the coaches I got to play for, and the coaches that sat next to me. Basically, play hard and play together, play unselfishly, try to rebound and defend. I’ve tried to do that. And I’ve found out kids want to be taught on every level, and guys want to play the right way generally. I haven’t met many who didn’t. And I’ve always surrounded myself with unbelievable coaches. If you look at my background, everybody who has coached with me has become a head coach. That’s the best achievement that happened to me in my life. I just try to share the values I was taught.
Allen Iverson referred to you as the “best coach in the world.” How difficult was it coaching Allen Iverson?
Yeah, but I think any time you coach a great player, a guy with an unbelievable gift, it’s not easy. My biggest things with Allen were more before we got between the lines. But his will to win, his competitiveness, those were some pretty amazing traits. When you coach great player, like him, David Thompson, David Robinson, Buck Williams, Rahseed, Reggie, all those great guys, the biggest thing as a coach, I always found, you want to make sure they play as great as they are capable of playing. I always felt a lot of pressure in that regard, because you want to make sure they play as well as they’re capable of playing. So when you are around great talent, you don’t want to screw that up. And Allen, Allen might be the greatest athlete ever. At the time, you coaching them, everyday is a challenge. And there were some days that were better than others. But the fact that he said that that’s as great a feeling as you can have.
You were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002? You won the NBA championship two years later. Did they induct you too early?
[laughs] That’s not for me to decide. I don’t think winning championships defines whether you are good at what you do or not. There’s a lot of guys that haven’t won championships, that aren’t in the hall of fame, that are pretty well deserving of that. But when you go in with the Globetrotters. And you realize the impact they’ve had on the sport. And I think Magic Johnson was in that class. You don’t think, I don’t know why I felt like I belonged. I don’t know, when you consider what the Globetrotters have meant to our sport and what Magic accomplished, and the other people, you feel like you fall way short of those.
What’s harder: winning the NCAA championship or winning the NBA championship?
I don’t even think about that. I mean just think how fortunate you are when things like that happen. Things have to be lined up pretty well. You gotta have coach, players, you gotta be with great coaches, you gotta be pretty lucky, when those things happen. I think I was always with great coaches and great players. You remember, I told you my 86 team was the best. We were a layup away from winning. Kiki had a dunk, tried to lay it in. We probably would’ve won in 80. I had some other teams with a break here or a break there, we might’ve won on both levels. That didn’t mean I was any better coach in 88 or 2004 than we were in 80 or any one of these pro stops. Just things gotta align themselves up.
Greg Popovich was the best man at your wedding?
I’d like to be a fly on the wall when you two get together. Is it basketball 24/7?
No. No, he’s a Renaissance Man, this guy. He’s as good a coach as we’ve ever had in this sport. He’s a better guy, but he’s so diverse. He goes to all these avant garde movies. He’s happy walking around New York City or San Francisco or going to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. He’s an amazing guy. I mean, we talk basketball, but it’s something that doesn’t just dominate our lives. We talk all the time. I admire the hell out of him. And happy for his success.
What do you enjoy most about coaching?
Well, this is the least enjoyable part of coaching. I’m going to enjoy 2:30, being around the players and coaches. I’m not crazy about games. I love being at practice with the players and I love being around my staff. Being around these young coaches and hoping that someday they get the same opportunities that I’ve had. Being around these players and hopefully, make a difference. See them achieve what they want to achieve, and get an education. Take basketball everywhere it takes them.
You described Tim Jankovich as the coach-in-waiting.
They did. All my coaches are “in waiting.” Everywhere I’ve been, looked who coached for me, they’ve all become head coaches. It was his idea. He was interviewed for the job, and he called Bill Self. You know that’s our connection. Bill’s like family to me. And after my interview and his interview, Bill called me and said. You know, Larry, if they offer you the job, Tim wants to come with you. I’ve known Tim and admired him. So that’s how it happened. And I think SMU when they finally decided on me. They wanted a guy with head coaching experience, because of my “track record,” they figure it’d be nice to have someone there in place. But again, all my coaches, every time I go to practice, I want Eric Snow, George Lynch, Jerrance Howard, Ulric Maligi, Tim, Jay Duncan our video guy, Sean Stout our GA, I want them all to experience what I’m doing. Be in a position to be the head coach. There’s no better gift you can give to guys than that. I guess that’s way Steve wanted it, and I was happy to oblige him. Then I want all the guys to do this.
After the Southern Miss game, you said you were very proud of your guys, in fact, you said the “most proud.” I didn’t expect that reaction after having blown such a huge lead. How does a coach see the game differently than others?
I don’t know. My thing is you want to put your kids in the best possible situation to win, every game, and you want to go to every practice hoping to get better. But I’m realistic. There are some wins that are hard for me, because I don’t think we did the things you expect and want them to do. And there are losses, they’ve done everything in their power to give a chance to win. I don’t get caught up in results all the time. I get caught up in how we play—if we do the things necessary to make this program pretty special. Now, we’re so short handed, when I took the job, Matt and a couple kids weren’t going to come back, Matt had told me. When we took this job, I didn’t want kids to be in this program and not have the opportunity to play. Some kids left. They didn’t want to leave. I don’t want kids to come to college to sit on the bench. Their time is too precious here. We lost some kids. We’re short handed. I understood that. I knew this year would be real difficult. As long as we try, try to get better, come to practice everyday, respecting their teammates, I can handle want happens in the games. We’ve invented ways to lose games, but we’re in every game just about, and that’s something I’m proud of. I just know with our transfers and with our recruiting class, and our potential, we’re going to get better quickly. That’s our goal. I want us able to compete with anybody.
In the evenings, you sometimes go to high school basketball games. What do you enjoy most about watching basketball at that level?
One, I want us to be visible, because I think it’s important for kids around here or anywhere I go to see a head coach. A lot of kids don’t know my name, but they know I coached Allen. And then, they “google” me up they are aware of my background. I want kids to know that we care enough to go to the games. I want coaches to know that I want to be a resource for them. And I want to present SMU. I want kids to want to come here because they know we’re going to be great, they’re gonna be coached, and that they have a chance to fulfill their goal. You know, they all want to be in the NBA. My job is, hopefully, give them that opportunity, but understand it’s a pretty huge hill to climb. And hopefully, they have some other alternatives, and getting an education here, and playing in a great project is pretty special. But I love going to games. I learn a lot watching guys coach. And I love seeing the high school kids play. And I’m hopeful someday some of the great ones I’ve watched play feel like they could benefit by coming here.
Any advice you would give to people writing about basketball?
[laughs] I’ve had so many different people write about me that aren’t necessarily involved in sports, but as long as you have a passion for basketball that’s the big thing for me. Then your writing will probably be better. And you obviously have a passion.
Jalen laughed when I asked if he “googled” you. He said, “No, I know who he is.”
It’s kinda funny. The two years I was out of it, I didn’t go to any pro games because I thought if I walked into a pro game people would speculate, one way or another here. But I went to so many college practices. I was in Kentucky, and Kansas, and Maryland, with Ted Boyle, and Jay Wright everyday. I’d go all around. And kids would look at me, they weren’t sure who I was until a college would bring it up. They all wanted to know about Allen. I always used to tell Allen when I coached him. "You know Allen, you just don’t realize the effect you’re having on this sport and all these kids. You gotta be a lot more responsible in what you do and how you act." I don’t think he ever realized it, nor I realized it, until now everywhere I go. People stop me in airports. A lot of people don’t know who I am, but they know I’m connected with Allen. And everywhere I go kids, they can’t wait to talk to me after, and say "you know my favorite player." Then I always see these number threes with the sleeve, the hair. They all want to be like him. It’s amazing. And I’m connected with this kid forever. Pretty amazing.
Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for coming by. Now I gotta figure out how to make us better. Take care.
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