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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 kept saying.
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 thought.
"Sure, that's it," they said. "Larry's finally coming home."
COUSIN-IN-LAW 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.