Posted May 8 2012 11:17AM
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Phil Jackson, as would be the case a handful of times during the season, stopped by Lakers HQ unannounced late in the summer to meet girlfriend Jeanie Buss, the executive vice president of business operations, for lunch. He popped into the coach's office. His old office.
Mike Brown, new in the job of replacing Jackson, enjoyed the surprise. The two had a friendly chat for a few minutes and parted. Brown never asked what he was getting into as coach of the travelling circus. On purpose.
"It's not that I didn't want his insights," Brown recalled many months later as the regular season transitioned into playoffs. "There's not many times when a guy leaves a job or a new guy comes in that the new guy and the old guys sit down and talk shop. It's not a natural thing. But we did talk. And there are some things, too, I just have to go through and learn on my own."
Brown had been on an NBA bench since 1997, first as an assistant with the Wizards, followed by similar roles with the Spurs and Pacers, before becoming the second-youngest coach in the league when the Cavaliers hired him in June 2005. He worked with a superstar, LeBron James, and won an Eastern Conference championship in 2007 and Coach of the Year award in 2008-09. The chalkboard stuff was handled.
But Brown knew going in that coaching the Lakers meant expectations light years beyond the so-called pressure of working the Cleveland sideline, even with the presence of James. Same job title, not nearly the same job.
In L.A., Brown has had to learn on his own. And it's not as if Jackson or anyone could have said anything that would truly prep the next guy in the office. "You don't know it," Brown said, "until you're in it."
Welcome to in it. The Lakers are in the playoffs, practicing on the court that offers a view of a line of championship trophies in the window of Buss' office upstairs, playing in an arena decorated with title banners and the retired jerseys of several of the game's all-time greats. The Lakers could advance to the Western Conference semifinals with a victory over the Nuggets Tuesday night (10:30 ET, TNT) at Staples Center.
This is when life as Lakers coach gets really scorching. Yet Brown clearly has embraced that part of the job. He wanted to find his own way, not take Jackson's map. He wanted everything that went with the unforgiving job.
"Obviously the media attention that this team gets, whether it's the regular season or not, is extraordinary compared to other teams," he said. "We dealt with the national-media coverage in Cleveland because of LeBron, but at the end of the day, they really just cared whether or not he played well or not, whether he took the last shot or he passed the last shot or whether we won or lost.
"Here, if a guy like Christian Eyenga jaywalks, it might make the front page of a newspaper or something and people are going to cry, 'What are you going to do to him as a coach? Are you going to discipline him like he's your son?' That type of stuff is a lot bigger here no matter what player it is than out in Cleveland or someplace else.
"I can't describe it. You have to go through it. I thought I had a good feel of it, dealing with it in Cleveland with LeBron. But it's different."
Outwardly, Brown has done well. Routine midseason practices get the media attention some teams deal with only during the playoffs. Every game means facing a crowd of recorders and cameras. Brown appears comfortable as he smiles, jokes and banters his way through questions.
Seeming in control is much of the battle. Finishing with the third-best record in the Western Conference, a fair read of the Lakers' continued presence as a good team but not the team to beat, has helped. So has the encouraging showing in the early days of the playoffs.
Brown is learning how to make it in L.A. Now that he's in it.
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