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.
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"