MacLeod, for one, didn't want to talk about it. "I have to wonder about the self-esteem of someone who has to promote himself at the expense of others," MacLeod says. "He sets himself up as some kind of paragon, but all he's done is load the gun 22 times. You don't think every time we play in New York or when I've got his ass here that I'm not loaded for bear? This is a tough job, and we just can't have that sort of thing."
Brown says he is weary of the controversies, and yet his honesty—which he frequently wields like a bludgeon—doesn't prevent him from diving into new skirmishes. He describes former CBS color analyst Bill Russell as "a moron," and CBS play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton as "a jerk," after having worked with both when he was out of coaching two seasons ago. Of the coach of the New Jersey Nets, he says, "Stan Albeck is a washerwoman who calls six people every day to find out the latest gossip. A nice man." And Brown doesn't stop there. "We've got maybe five general managers in the NBA who know anything about basketball," he says. "The other 18 are stealing their money."
Michael Gearon, president of the Atlanta Hawks and the man who put Brown on the street in 1981, says, "Is it a coincidence that in every [professional] relationship the guy has ever had, the friendships aren't there? In fact, it's almost as if they're all his mortal enemies. I think Hubie really has a contempt for people."
If that is so, then it is truly a paradox because Brown's hard-nosed brand of basketball has made him very popular with fans. "There are NBA coaches who are popular with the players, popular with management, popular with the other coaches," Fratello says, "but what coach in the league is more popular than Hubie with the people in the stands? There are people there every night just to see him." Part of his appeal is his ability to turn a word beginning with F into a noun, adjective and direct object all in the same vile sentence. "I'm more offensive in an empty building than one that's packed," Brown says. "In a packed building I'm known as colorful."
He was colorful in Atlanta, until the Hawks fired him just before the 1980-81 season ended. The Hawks claim they cashiered Brown because his abusiveness toward the players had reached a point of diminished returns. Finally, when Brown's harshness stopped working, there was nothing soft to fall back on.
"People say, 'You're too critical, you attack too much,' " Brown says. "But the real test is to hold your ground when they try to back you down and knock you on your ass. It's easy to be loved, but you have to remember that the only ones who really love you are the people who sit around that dinner table with you at night. Everybody else is trying to cover his own ass."
Hubie Brown was born on Sept. 25, 1933 in the little town of Hazleton, Pa., not far from Bethlehem and Nazareth. In the manner of Catholic families at that time and place, Anna and Charlie Brown named their son for a saint, calling him Hubert Jude, the latter being the patron saint of desperate causes. Hubie was an only child, and Anna and Charlie worshiped him and raised him like their own desperate cause.
When Hubie was three, Charlie moved the family to Elizabeth, N.J., which at that time was an industrial city of 125,000 people, many of them immigrants who worshiped in the city's 15 Catholic churches. "When I was growing up, you never talked about the street you lived on," Brown recalls. "You just said what parish you were from."
The Browns settled in St. Mary's parish, in a four-family apartment house hard by the railroad tracks that came stretching out of Manhattan, 20 miles away. When one of the old steam-driven locomotives rumbled by, not 50 feet from the Browns' front door, you could gauge its speed and the number of boxcars behind it just by pressing your cheek against the window and feeling the vibration in the glass. The Browns never had a telephone or a car, and in the wintertime the furnace warmed only three of the apartment's five rooms. Anna Brown rarely left home, except to go to church almost every day, preferring to stay in the apartment with her rosary and a damp mop. "We could never use the front stairs," Hubie says, "because my mother used to wax them three times a week."
Hubie and Charlie usually called each other "Chief," as friends might. Charlie worked as a foreman at the federal shipyard in nearby Kearny until the end of World War II, helping to ferry completed ships to Navy yards up and down the coast. When the war ended, the shipyards began closing down, and Charlie was laid off. To remind his players how close they are to the street, Hubie frequently tells the story of how his father was thrown out of work after 19 years' service at the shipyard. In fact, Charlie worked at the facility for only 10 years before he lost his job there.