Had any of the
young players on his teams or in his camps ever adored him the way Buck
Williams did? The 6'8" rookie bought a house near Brown's, bought ties like
Brown's, bought a Mercedes like Brown's. Teammates called him Buck Brown.
"Way to go, Kiddo!" Brown would shout, geysering off the bench when
Williams executed a move they'd worked on in practice.
"He took me
from Point 1 to Point 10 as a player, and I'm not exaggerating," Williams
says. "All my success should be attributed to him."
Brown would step
over to show Sam Lacey, an 11-year vet, how to pivot the same way he'd shown
Buck, and Lacey would give the kind of look the old family cat gives the new
year, an old family cat named Mickey Johnson joined the team, firing the Nets
to an 11-game winning streak and 18 wins in 23 games. Outsiders thought Brown
had the world in his palm. Brown thought he had it on his shoulders. Johnson
sat alone on the bench during time-outs. He waited until the last second to
make team buses and didn't wait until the last second to make three-point field
goals. He didn't need Larry Brown. "We won 11 in a row and Larry's moping
around," says center Mike Gminski. "I thought, 'This is the unhappiest
winning team I've ever been around.' "
that Johnson be traded, and he was, along with rookie Sleepy Floyd in exchange
for Micheal Ray Richardson. The Nets cooled, Kansas called, and Brown quietly
boarded an airplane for an interview. "He never stopped enjoying being
recruited," says Billy Puckett. The story leaked. Taub demanded that Brown
exit immediately, before the playoffs, if he planned to take the Kansas
flinched—and left. In New York City, WNBC-TV sportscaster Don Gould switched
chairs four times on the 11 p.m. news, introducing himself each time as Larry
Brown, coach of a different team. Newspaper writers decried the carpetbagger's
latest move. Taub called a press conference and ripped him. The Nets sued him
for money advanced him on his salary. The trainer called him "Larry
Gone." The two assistants, Bill Blair and Mike Schuler, feeling marooned,
severed their relationships with him. The Nets collapsed in the first round of
In Bernie's Deli
in Long Beach, two old high school friends of Brown's shook their heads.
" Kansas?" Frankie Apple said to Pat Lynch. "Even Dorothy left
In the Northfield
Hilton in Troy, Mich., before a game against the Pistons, Buck Williams locked
his door and took his phone off the hook. "It was like Jesus Christ was
leading you to the promised land," he said, "and all of a sudden you
looked around the desert and he was gone."
He lay down on
the bed and felt his eyes fill with tears.
On April 12,
1947, 6-year-old Larry Brown awoke in an apartment in Pittsburgh and wondered
what new excitement the day might bring. Never had his family been happier.
They had just moved to Pittsburgh—the area his father, a 43-year-old traveling
furniture salesman, worked—so they could see him nearly every day, instead of
just weekends. They had just bought a new Dodge. And best of all, they were
about to move into their first house. Not someone else's place. The