Brown took the
job, briefly, but after 84 days of haggling over recruiting, his office and his
planned basketball camp, he quit and returned to the pros.
"What if I
don't get a job?"
you'll get a job."
"But what if
nobody wants me?"
down, everybody wants you."
In the summer of
'74, in a hotel room in Moscow, the ritual was the same every day: Brown
panicking, Doug Moe, his assistant, soothing.
That first season
with the ABA Carolina Cougars, 1972-73, Brown had established himself as the
brightest young coach in pro basketball, taking a next-to-last-place team to a
57-27 first-place finish, winning Coach of the Year at 33, wearing long hair
and bib overalls and making women fans swoon. The next season they finished
third. "I've never been so miserable in my life," Brown said later.
"I wanted out." The franchise was sold to a group in St. Louis. Brown
was out, but he didn't feel free, or even unemployed. He felt orphaned.
Now, with a team
of college stars, he was in Russia, the land of his ancestry, where his
grandfather's baking had gratified the palate of Nicholas just before the
czar's overthrow. Instead of searching for traces of his old family, he was
obsessed with finding a new one, staring every day at the hotel phone and
hoping his general manager in Carolina, Carl Scheer, had found a new job where
he could ask Brown aboard as coach.
One day, Scheer
delivered Brown a new family: the ABA's Denver Rockets, soon to be renamed the
Nuggets. Hot damn, said Larry: cozy arena, enthusiastic people, a merger with
the NBA any year now.... Hell, he even knew a few streets and people out there.
You're coming out with me, aren't you, Doug? That-aboy. It's gonna be
And you know
something? For a few years it nearly was. He whipped a last-place team to an
incredible 65-19 record his first year, 1974-75, and 60-24 his second. His
third year, the team entered the NBA and stung the establishment with a 50-32
record and another division title, drawing the second-highest attendance (an
average of 17,150) in league history.