For a while Charlie worked as a maintenance man at the Singer sewing-machine plant in Elizabeth, but when the shipyard reopened he decided to go back. Three months later the docks were closed again, and this time there were no other jobs to be had. "My parents lost everything they had," Hubie says. Charlie was out of work for eight agonizing months, a period of despair for both the father and his son.
"Then one day," Hubie says, as if recalling a miracle, "my father became the janitor at my school."
To this day Brown cannot talk about his father for more than five minutes without choking up. Rather than deny Charlie this most fundamental tribute, Hubie will simply stop speaking while he stares off into space, lost in a private reverie about what, for him, was clearly the best time of his life. "My father was a giant," Brown says.
"Charlie's whole life was his son, and he was always there," recalls Jim Murphy, a standout basketball player at St. Mary's during the 1940s. "When he was watching Hubie it was just like he was watching a little puppy." Charlie never missed a game his son played throughout grammar school and high school. "You wouldn't know Charlie was there," says Al LoBalbo, who was the basketball coach at St. Mary's and now is an assistant at St. John's University. "But he was there. Sometimes I'd see him watching our practices through the window."
To Charlie, failure was a very personal act of denial. That was at the root of Hubie's own obsession with eliminating mistakes. "A lot of Hubie's life has revolved around the fact that his father wanted him to have a better life than he did," says Hubie's wife, Claire, "and that he could make that happen through sports."
Hubie soon learned that you were never far from the street, even with someone who loved you. Once after Hubie had gone 0 for 4 in a baseball game, Charlie wouldn't—or couldn't—bring himself to speak to his son. "It's not like somebody stood there and said, 'I don't love you today because you didn't get a hit,' " Claire says, "but that's what it was. When a person gets all his sense of worth in that one way, in the long run it hurts the person's sense of self-worth. The tendency is to say, 'If I lost today, then I'm not a good person.' "
If there was one thing that Brown practiced even more seriously than sports, it was Catholicism. St. Mary's was run by the Sisters of Charity, and Hubie seemed to consider their stern guidance divine. He began serving as an altar boy while in grammar school, and he hustled weddings for tips. From the fifth grade until he graduated from St. Mary's, Hubie served a daily 6:30 a.m. Mass at St. Elizabeth's Hospital for a dollar a week and breakfast with the staff. After eight years of this, when he was ready to leave for college, one of the nuns at the hospital presented him with a card of thanks and $50. "You have to understand that in 1951, fifty dollars was my father's weekly paycheck," he says. "I was stunned."
It seems odd somehow that this angry man, the most profane coach in pro basketball, should have been most strongly influenced by these vessels of God. "Some of the most important women in my life have been nuns," he says.
After Brown graduated from Niagara University in 1955 (he was a low-scoring, great-passing guard for what was one of the top teams in the country), he spent a year as the phys ed teacher at St. Mary's Academy in Little Falls, N.Y. Like many of his Niagara classmates, Brown had joined the ROTC in college, but when it became evident that the ROTC guys were taking their commissions and going to Korea, Brown quit and was drafted into the Army.
Like many good athletes, he had a way of making the Army work for him. Stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, Brown spent two years touring the country with various Army basketball, baseball and volleyball teams. "That was a great time for me," he says. "These other guys were all coming back from Korea, where they had been freezing their asses off, and there I was with a tan and no uniform."