But the Nuggets
failed in the playoffs for a third straight year, and then a fourth, and
Brown's need to be the perfect father-lover-coach-dresser-nice guy was
threatened. The franchise was underfinanced. The pressure grew. People began
saying Brown's team wasn't physical enough—with illness-prone Bobby Jones and
the 6'3�" Thompson at forward and 6'9" Dan Issel at center—to win a
rugged seven-game series in May, when opponents had time to prepare for Brown's
press. They said Brown's burn to win turned so hot during the playoffs, it
singed his team.
"The man had
a heart of gold and was one of the greatest coaches I ever played for,"
says former Nugget guard Mack Calvin, "but during the playoffs he became
like a madman. Everything we'd done would change. Lineup changes, new plays,
forwards bringing the ball up instead of the guards, him calling the plays
instead of me. During the season we were a family, but in the playoffs he'd
scream so much you couldn't concentrate."
Brown knew he
should surround himself with young, eager, pliable players that he could touch,
that he could affect. And yet, the playoff cloud growing darker, he would begin
to think that with just a couple more changes....
Before the '78-79
season, 76ers forward George McGinnis became available. Brown had coached him
in an ABA All-Star game and knew his reputation as an idler in practice. But
now, at a restaurant in the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Spurs coach Moe, 76ers
coach Billy Cunningham and Brown—three good friends from UNC—sat and flirted
with the idea of the trade: McGinnis and Ralph Simpson for Bobby Jones. Moe
looked at Brown as if he were a lunatic: "Larry, if you make that trade,
you're sick!" Billy C. kicked Moe in the shin under the table, and the pain
made him realize he hadn't been quite fair. "Billy," he bellowed,
"if you don't make that trade, you're sick!"
The deal was
struck, and then two other older players—Charlie Scott and Tom Boswell—were
grafted onto Brown's squad of Boy Scouts. Scheer: "I could've said no. But
I had such great feelings about Larry as a motivator and a coach, I was
awestruck." Brown: "I thought if I compromised just a
The first day of
practice, during three-man fast-break drills, McGinnis tied his shoes, blew his
nose and walked so slowly back to his line that he accidentally missed half his
don't practice like that here," Brown declared in a postpractice
you should trade me," McGinnis said.
take care of that in the next half hour," Brown shot back. He went to the
telephone, called Scheer, and was stunned to hear the G.M. tell him he couldn't
trade a superstar they'd built preseason advertising around after one day of
"I knew that
day I was gone," Brown said.