After the game, a
UCLA alumnus approached Brown and said, "You know, you're the first UCLA
coach ever to lose a final." One small prick like that could perforate a
Larry Brown fantasy. So could the peeling office paint he hadn't noticed back
in that first week, and the one-extension telephone, and the mediocre money the
school allotted him for his TV show, and the nearly $100,000 in summer-camp
money he could not earn because Wooden had cornered the California market and
UCLA would not permit Brown to use campus facilities.
The second year,
reality was even ruder. Brown resented alumnus Sam Gilbert's attempts to play
papa to his players. He received a death threat before the game at Stanford. He
couldn't convince the administration to create the atmosphere in Pauley
Pavilion he wanted, by moving the stands closer to the court and dispensing
more tickets to students. His rent for the house on which UCLA alumni had made
the down payment, giving him the option to buy later, was greater than his UCLA
salary ($40,000), and he was dipping into his bank account. Morgan had died;
Brown spent nearly $30,000 refurbishing the house, and he says the athletic
director had promised to reimburse him. It took months for repayment to appear,
and it covered less than half the total. He hated having to let others grab
restaurant checks, hated driving an alumnus car dealer's Cadillac. The old
helpless feeling he had had as a kid, depending on uncles for a few spare bucks
and a car ride to a ballgame, returned and ate at him. He gave back the Caddy
and wondered what Larry Brown was doing driving a Ford LTD in the land of
Porsche and Jaguar.
A month before
his second season ended he verbally accepted an offer to coach the New Jersey
Nets for $200,000 a year, and then publicly denied it. Rumors hung over the
UCLA team as it finished a 20-7 season with a first-round playoff loss to
Brigham Young. Bruin guards Michael Holton and Rod Foster went around issuing
quiet assurances to the other players. "He wouldn't leave us," they
Two days later,
Brown gathered "his kids" and, thinking back to the day at UNC when
McGuire had left him, began to tell them he was leaving. He started crying, and
walked out of the locker room.
In a nearby
stairwell, Holton and Foster blinked at space for a moment, then sat down and
cried. In Florida, Roy Ilowit turned off the TV news and turned to his wife.
"Why would he do that?" he asked. People who did not know Brown looked
at each other and said, "Now wait a minute—isn't he the guy who said he
wasn't suited for coaching pros?"
And in Long
Beach, Long Island, an hour's drive from where his new job would be, his
relatives and friends acted puzzled for a moment and then were struck with a
it," they said. "Larry's finally coming home."
SANDY: Then he left UCLA to go to Kansas—.
AUNT EVA: NO, no,
that's not right.
COUSIN ARNIE: No,
Sandy, he left UCLA to go to the Nets.