Six Degrees of Larry Brown
Although his Knicks missed the 2006 Playoffs, Larry Brown's stamp is all over the postseason
Of the 16 franchises in this year’s NBA postseason, it seems that Larry Brown coached every one of them. Although that’s not quite true, Brown’s travels have allowed him to influence players, coaches and front office staff on nearly every playoff team.
How can a head coach whose New York Knicks squad finished 23-59 this season be so far-reaching? In Larry Brown’s case, it was easy. “I’ve grown up playing for some incredible coaches, and I don’t think anybody’s ever been as fortunate as I have in terms of the people I’ve been allowed to play under, coach under or be involved with,” says Brown.
The same can be said for those who learned under the well-traveled coach.
Start with the first-round matchup between the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Clippers. Brown played for the Denver Nuggets, of course, and coached them from 1975-1979. But Larry’s influence with the current Nuggets extends beyond a note in the history books. The general manager of Denver is Kiki Vandeweghe, who played for Brown at UCLA and led them to the NCAA Championship Game in 1980. The assistant head coach of the team is Doug Moe. Moe began his career with the Nuggets as an assistant coach to his college and pro teammate Larry Brown. The head coach of Denver is George Karl. Karl, a University of North Carolina product (like Brown and Moe), began his coaching career as an assistant under Moe.
But let’s not just talk about Larry, Moe and Karl (Curley?).
Denver’s opponent in the first round was the Los Angeles Clippers. Prior to 2006, the last playoff victory for the Clippers came in 1993, when Larry Brown led the Clips to the postseason.
In another first-round playoff series, the San Antonio Spurs play the Sacramento Kings. The Spurs -- the defending NBA champions -- are coached by Gregg Popovich. In 1988, Pop was hired as an assistant coach on Larry Brown’s staff with the Spurs. That was his first NBA job. Not only are Popovich and Brown great friends, but the Spurs start 40 percent of their starting lineup with players who started for Brown (Bruce Bowen and Nazr Mohammed).
The Sacramento Kings aren’t totally void of Larry Brown’s influence either. When Brown coached the Detroit Pistons to the 2004 NBA Championship, one of his key contributors was current King Corliss Williamson.
It’s harder to find Brown’s protégées in the Lakers-Suns series, but not impossible. Of Suns five current starters, two played for Brown at the beginning of their NBA careers. Raja Bell and Tim Thomas are playing huge roles for the Suns these days. And another former Sixer, Aaron McKie, is an active player with the Lakers.
The one remaining Western Conference first-round playoff matchup pits the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies. Dallas is coached by Avery Johnson. Johnson played point guard for Brown for most of the 1991 season with San Antonio.
In the East, most of the Detroit Pistons have first-hand knowledge of playing for Brown. Detroit’s opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, have Joe Smith, who played for Larry in 1998.
Brown coached the New Jersey Nets and the Indiana Pacers. The CEO/President of the Pacers is Donnie Walsh. Walsh is, like Brown, a New York native who played at the University of North Carolina; he entered the NBA in 1977, when he was hired by (guess who?) Larry Brown.
In 1993, it was Walsh who hired Brown to coach the Pacers, and in 1994 they reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers nearly had Brown running their basketball team this season; he was rumored to be close to signing on as their GM last spring. Instead, the Cavs have two former Brown players (Larry Hughes and Eric Snow).
The Cavs are playing the Washington Wizards, whose head coach Eddie Jordan, somehow never crossed paths with Brown. The closest they came was when Jordan played for the Nets in 1981; Brown took over as head coach in 1982. Chicago Bulls head coach Scott Skiles also missed Brown by a year. Skiles played for the 1996 Sixers, and Brown took over in 1997.
And that’s only players and coaches with first-hand experience. Everyone can be linked to Brown in only a few steps. Nets coach Larry Frank coached under Pacers assistant Kevin O’Neill. O’Neill coached under Brown.
Only two head coaches have coached in and won more postseason games than Brown. Their names are Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. Jackson and Riley have combined to win 13 of the last 24 NBA championships. But the last three (and four of the last seven) have been won by Brown or his coaching disciple, Popovich
Jackson and Riley have had the benefit of coaching Kareem and Michael and Magic and Shaq and Kobe and Wade. Brown has had only three players make First-Team All NBA. Those three were Allen Iverson (1999, 2001), David Robinson (1991), and David Thompson (1977). Only Iverson was an MVP under Brown.
For most great players and coaches, there is one city that can honor a player or coach. Heck, in Philadelphia, a microphone is retired in honor of broadcaster Dave Zinkoff. The Hall of Fame isn’t enough of an honor for Brown, who was enshrined in Springfield in 2002. Perhaps airports across the country can pay homage to Brown. He's certainly racked up his share of frequent-flyer miles.
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