"Everybody was afraid to say anything to him because—ooh ooh—this is Big Russ. I mean who the hell is Bill Russell? The coaches didn't like him, the fans didn't like him, the guys at CBS didn't like him, but he was allowed to ruin the game. Bill Russell is a terrible human being."
When Brown became coach of the Knicks last year, a columnist wrote in The New York Times that after 26 years, of coaching, "Hubie Brown was home."
There was something smug in that, of course, and Brown heard the implied Jersey joke, even if no one else did. "Everybody tells me I'm where I belong now, but that's bull," Brown says. "I belong across the river. I'm a Jersey guy."
All of New York at his feet, king of the hill, top of the heap, and the only thing Brown ever wanted was to be a Jersey guy. "Jersey guys stick together," Brown explains. "There is a unification of guys." When Joe Taub, a Jersey guy who owns the New Jersey Nets, began hinting just before the end of last season that he wanted to lure Brown across the river, the Knicks gave Brown a raise and contract extension. "The truth is, I was ready to go," Brown says, "but the Knicks wouldn't give me permission."
It had been just a few months earlier that Brown had thought he heard the street calling him again. After two weeks, the Knicks were 0-7, and in New York that's not a start, it's an invitation to a funeral. Brown just kept pushing, and taking names along the way. "People say I don't ever forget," he says, "and they're right. Once we got it going [last season], everybody jumped to the front of the parade, and I was a genius. But what had changed?"
Some things never change, just as some people never do. For now, Brown is content to bask in the heat of his own genius. But another winter is coming, another season. And sooner or later a salesman has got to go back out into the street. It comes with the territory.