Brown picked up
the paper one day and read that Scheer had said he'd had to talk Brown out of
trading Issel. Brown, knowing how sensitive Issel was and claiming that that
idea had been shelved weeks earlier, exploded. He and Scheer screamed like
scalded lovers. "I can't trust you anymore," shouted Brown.
On Feb. 1, 1979,
with a 28-25 record, Brown left the team in Portland, flew home to Denver and
walked into Scheer's office with raccoon rings around his eyes. He said that
chest pains had pierced him for nearly three months, that he couldn't sleep and
that he was quitting. What he really wanted, deep down, was for Scheer to drape
an arm around him and tell him it was all O.K., they'd send all the bad people
away and make it a family again—Larry couldn't leave them.
Brown says Scheer
leaped at his offer to quit. Scheer says he tried to talk Brown out of it. In
Florida, Brown's mother heard the news on TV and reached for the telephone,
shaking as she dialed Roy Ilowit's number. "Roy? Roy, this is Ann. What's
happened to Larry? Oh, I'm so worried.... No, I haven't heard a word from
him.... I thought he was happy, didn't you?"
around. I get the shivers just thinking about what all this means."
A light ocean
breeze ran its fingers through the trees, and sunlight warmed the tanned legs
of blondes carrying books across the grass. Inside, on his office wall, hung 17
framed national-magazine covers and pictures of 10 NCAA championship basketball
teams. A long window on another wall opened onto the country's most famous
college basketball court.
Life and fantasy
had reemerged in the spring of '79, and the cathedral awe had hushed Brown's
voice once more. He was the new coach of...of—it humbled him so much he found
it difficult even to say—U-C-L-A.
"Maybe I can
coach after all," he had said to his wife when Bruin athletic director J.D.
Morgan called the month after Brown quit the Nuggets.
Lord, how he
could coach. "He would watch a scrimmage, blow his whistle and tell all 10
players exactly what they had done on their last two trips up and down the
court," says Billy Puckett, a recruiter for Brown at UCLA. "It was as
if he had a photograph of it. And he's the only coach I ever saw who could walk
right in and turn a group of guys into a team right away. He's
Brown blew his
whistle and lectured on the most minute of mistakes, and 18-year-olds on
four-year scholarships looked at him differently than did 28-year-olds on
four-year no-cuts. Some days he stopped practice and took the team to the UCLA
swimming pool or football field to lead a cheer for other Bruin squads: Icky la
boom bah, awful la dawful wawful, ookuh tee ah! He entered the basketball team
in the intramural softball program and played with them. The night before the
Stanford game he took the team to see American Gigolo, then stayed up all night
with the students camping outside the ticket window, bringing them coffee and
doughnuts at dawn. During meals he gave the freshmen lessons on how to start
with the silverware on the outside and work inward.
He rolled up a
program and clutched it during games, the same way the Great Father of UCLA
basketball had. From midseason Brown's team, whose starters included two
freshman guards and a 6'6" sophomore center, became infected by its coach
and rode an epidemic of upsets to the NCAA final. At the Final Four he
rhapsodized to the national media about how much nicer it was working with
college kids than spoiled professionals, and the country was glutted with
stories of the principled little coach of the Bruins. Their narrow loss to
Louisville in the championship game barely tarnished his achievement.