About five years ago Minot State College asked Brown to return to be honored as a distinguished graduate. Before he left, his wife told him something he had never known, that the dean of women at the school had once warned her about dating a man with Brown's reputation for wildness. Instead of chuckling, Brown flared. "I said to myself, 'System, I'm going to give you a knockout punch.' "
He flew to North Dakota and found Dee Dee Govan, the old black man who had once operated a brothel in Minot. "He always came to my games and had to sit alone," Brown says. "The people who looked down their nose at him were the same ones who looked down their nose at my poor old mama and the little urchin she had out on the streets trying to make a living. The people who were going to bed with Dee Dee's whores wouldn't say hello to him on the streets."
One of the first things Brown did when he accepted the honor was to introduce the old black man as his special guest. Then he had Govan stand near him in the reception line. "Well, hello, Mr. Smith, I know you remember ol' Dee Dee Govan," he would boom to the squirming married couples coming through the line.
"I thought to myself, Take that, system," he says.
This was life at its sweetest for Dale Brown. With a single stroke he had tallied an I'll help you to an ignored old man and an I'll show you to the hypocrites who ignored him as a little boy.
"I should forget about Socrates and Plato and the Korean conflict.... I should do nothing but diagram plays for you. But I hate it with a passion. You don't have to be smart to be a basketball coach. I don't even like to go to coaches' conventions anymore. Most of the coaches are superegos, with their Stepford wives. I see all the same napkins in the coffee shops with the same X's and O's."
Brown stuffs his napkin in his coffee cup and watches the brown stain expand. "That's what I do with my napkin," he declares.
The same day he says that when he met John Wooden, his hero, at a high school coaches' clinic in Louisville, he pushed aside the salt and pepper shakers at a coffee-shop table, leaning forward to see the X's and O's the ex-UCLA coach scribbled on his paper place mat.
"Coach," Brown asked, "how far did you allow the guard to penetrate in that offense? Did he go into the lane? Coach, before you eat your soup, put your wing in the normal place, high post at the side of the lane, ball at the point...."
He sits in his office straightening the desk calendar and the out box so they align perfectly with the edges of his spotless desk, and fingering the paper clips he sometimes arranges according to size. He straightens newspapers when he enters recruits' houses and the vitamin pills his wife leaves at night on the counter to take the next morning.