Ralph Remembers: Larry Brown
Ralph Lawler | 9/9/11

Photo: NBAE/Getty

Larry Brown is many things to many people: Brilliant teacher, hoop lifer, a never satisfied genius or basketball vagabond.        

He has been coaching the game since 1972.

This apple did not fall too far from the tree. Larry played college basketball at the University of North Carolina for the great Dean Smith, who played at Kansas under the legendary Phog Allen, who had played at Kansas for the man who invented Basketball – James Naismith. Talk about lineage. He got his coaching genes honestly.

And it has shown.

Larry Brown is the only basketball coach to win an NCAA Title (Kansas - 1988) and an NBA Title (Detroit - 2004). He also won an ABA Championship as a player with the Oakland Oaks in 1969. He won Olympic Gold as a player for team USA in 1964. He has been College Coach of the Year and NBA Coach of the Year. He has coached eight different teams into the NBA Playoffs. Yes, he is a winner and a Hall of Famer (Class of 2002).

Larry Brown’s entire professional playing career was in the old American Basketball Association. He was a 5-foot-9 inch point guard playing with a colorful red, white and blue basketball and he was good enough as a player to be a three-time All Star and was once the ABA All-Star game MVP. Larry might have been an NBA star had he been just a few inches taller.

The reality though, is that Larry Brown was a basketball player for only about 15 years of his life as boy and a young man. That pales in comparison to his nearly 40 years as a coach at three universities and for 10 professional teams in two leagues. His resume is a remarkable travelogue. Larry Brown will be long remembered and he will be remembered as a basketball coach and one of the best there has ever been.

His college coaching credits include Davidson, UCLA and Kansas. To that, you can add nine of the current 30 NBA teams.

It was Larry Brown’s work with the Clippers in 1992 and 1993 that convinced me he was one of the game’s greats.

Clippers Executive Vice President Harley Frankel led the recruitment of Brown as soon as he was let go by the San Antonio Spurs in February of 1992.

Photos: NBAE/Getty

At the time, the Clippers were a talented but floundering team. Coach Mike Schuler had lost the team during the 1991-92 season, and was not even on speaking terms with two of his assistants. He would ask either trainer Keith Jones or me to come up to his hotel suite when we were on the road to keep him company. It was a toxic and deteriorating situation. The team had dropped three games under .500 after starting out 14-10.

The promising Clippers team included Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Ken Norman, Charles Smith, Doc Rivers, Gary Grant, James Edwards, Loy Vaught and Olden Polynice. There was just too much talent on board to let this season spiral down the drain.

The decision was made and Schuler was out. Assistant Coach Mack Calvin took over on an interim basis for two games, going 1-1. Timing was key, and there was an opportune seven-day break in the schedule around the All-Star game in Orlando from Feb. 5 - 12. It was a window of opportunity for the new coach to salvage the season.

The Clippers introduced Larry Brown as the new head coach at half-time on our telecast of a game versus the Lakers at the Forum, and I stated on the air that night that it was the most important moment in franchise history.

The transformation was immediate. The new coach assembled the team at Pauley Pavilion on the UCLA Campus the next day. The Clippers were a better team the minute Larry stepped on the floor with them. Still, he was apprehensive as he became the first to coach two NBA teams in a single season.

"Man, I was scared to death," Brown says. "I thought the most important thing was to let them know I was a human being, and that I was at fault in San Antonio, that I didn't do what was asked of me. But the second I walked in the room, they were attentive and they accepted me. At my press conference I had said we could win, but I'm not sure I believed it at that time. But after a few minutes with the team, I thought, ‘Hell, yeah, we can.’”

He was absolutely correct. The Clippers won their first five games after the Larry Brown mini-camp. They were on their way and would go 23-12 in the final 35 games after being an under-performing 22-25 when he took over. It was basketball magic, and the reviews were unanimously positive:

"The big plus is that they know Larry has won and they know that he cares," Assistant Coach Mack said. "After practice Loy Vaught and Kenny Norman are looking for Larry. They want to learn."

“The players respect him." star guard Ron Harper said of Brown.

"Finally we've got a coach who's really behind us," said Ken Norman.

Guard Doc Rivers added: "I'd take us in March. We're going to be a lot better—that's the big thing."