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The Kansas fans flooded the floor to adore him, but as he walked toward the locker room, a 12-year-old dressed in purple walked up and sneered, "Where you gonna be next year, Larry?"
It seemed it would always be this way for Brown, anguish riding tandem with every success. He would come, conquer and leave, come, conquer and leave—three exits within 50 months in one dizzying stretch—and usually only he could understand why.
At each place he would win people the same way he won games—because he cared. But then, suddenly, he would be gone, and those he cared for would feel betrayed. The derision heaped upon him would be treble that received by a man who left without winning people or games.
A whole society that had begun to live by that same principle, of mobility and transience and rootlessness, would see in him the thing that made it uneasy about itself: how easy it had become to cut ties and move on, to change jobs and communities and partners, to pass an entire life in the topsoil.
A few, of course, would praise his integrity, extol him as a man who would sacrifice a $200,000-a-year contract rather than compromise. Judge him by his success and the number of offers he receives, said the men who fought with one another to hire him. Who, asked others, could blame the man in that profession who ran before they chased him?
But the howl from the other side would always drown them, and what the howl said, without any of the howlers knowing it, was this: It's O.K. to hit and run, we're all learning to do that now, but do not hit and touch and run. Do not feel so much, that's cheating. We could accept your disconnection, Larry Brown, if only at each place you didn't try so hard to connect.
On a summer day in 1949, in a boys' camp in the Poconos, 8-year-old Larry Brown walked up a hill clutching a 1-year-old child to his chest. From the base of the hill, head counselor Roy Ilowit—the baby's father and Larry's father figure—watched them and felt good.
Suddenly Ilowit's breath caught—Larry had stumbled and was falling headfirst, with the child beneath him. What happened next would stay with Ilowit the rest of his life: The 8-year-old spun in midair and landed on his back, taking the pain there while the baby stayed snug against his chest.
The thing the man learned about the boy's reflexes that day would forever finish second to what he learned about the boy's heart.
There was always something special in the bond between Larry and younger children. At camp they tried to walk pigeon-toed and talk softly, as Larry did. He would show up wearing a Madras shirt, Bermuda shorts and Bass Weejuns with no socks; one week and a couple dozen letters home later, there would be a campful of 4'10" dittos.