Mike Brown (1988-93)
Years before the Jazz introduced their mascot to fans a different “Bear” roamed the tunnels of the Delta Center. Mike “The Brown Bear” Brown spent five seasons with Utah, backing up Mark Eaton and Karl Malone and filling in as a starter when needed.
Brown was in Salt Lake as the Jazz began their rise in the Western Conference and he looks back fondly at his time with the franchise. Brown averaged 5.8 points per game, 4.7 rebounds in 394 contests.
“Those were actually my best years professionally,” said Brown. “I enjoyed my time in Chicago, since that was my first team, but the Jazz is where I actually began to make a name. The Salt Palace was a tough place to play. The Delta Center was a tough place to play and we won. I also played with two great players that are going to be in the Hall of Fame. It was just a real good experience.”
He also genuinely enjoyed playing for Jerry Sloan.
“What I liked about Jerry was he was a defensive-oriented guy and he was straight with you,” said Brown. “You always knew where you stood with Jerry. He didn’t sugar coat anything and I respected that because if you worked hard, busted your butt and played defense – you were going to play for him. You may not have been able to sit in a boat and throw the ball in the ocean, but if you did those things you were going to play for him.”
For three years Brown also had a restaurant in Salt Lake that fans may still remember - “The Brown Bear’s Burgers and Dogs.”
“We had a great location, it was in Sugarhouse,” said Brown. “It was Jazz oriented and I had something like 30 jerseys up on the wall with the team’s colors purple, gold and green. It was a good business, it was profitable and I enjoyed doing it.”
The restaurant was open three years, one of which while Brown was in Minnesota, where the Jazz had traded him for Felton Spencer in 1993. He would go on to play four more seasons in the NBA, also spending time with the Philadelphia76ers and Phoenix Suns. The big man finished his career overseas playing three seasons in Italy and two seasons in Spain, where a freak accident caused him to miss an entire year, and it wasn’t even on a basketball court.
While staying in a hotel in northern Spain, Brown injured his knee in one of the most unlikely places – an elevator.
“It was an older hotel that probably wasn’t up to code and it had an elevator very similar to a freight elevator,” said Brown. “It had an accordion kind of gate and you had to operate (the elevator). As soon as it started moving I noticed my foot was caught in the gate – it snapped my leg like a pencil. It was unbelievable.”
Brown ended up tearing his lateral collateral ligament (LCL), which is unusual for basketball players who often tear their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) or medial collateral ligament (MCL).
Still, Brown recovered from the injury and played two more seasons in Spain before returning to Las Vegas (his home of 10 years) where he took a year off from basketball. But when an American Basketball Association (ABA) team relocated to Sin City, he found a new calling.
“Reggie Theus was the head coach and I went down to a couple practices and I really saw a need in the younger guys for some fundamentals,” said Brown. “So I went in and (worked as an assistant coach) the last 20 games of the season and it was really fulfilling to see the players improve.”
He enjoyed the experience so much that he contacted the NBA about working in the NBA Development League. By the next year he was an assistant coach with the Roanoke Dazzle, where he spent two seasons. Then in September of 2004, he got his first head coaching job with the Fayetteville Patriots.
But in 2006 the NBA revamped the D-League, deciding no longer to operate several teams in the league. Fayetteville was among those to fold.
Looking for another coaching opportunity, Brown got looks from two different NBA teams. The Pistons brought him in to work with their summer league entry in Las Vegas, while the Memphis Grizzlies invited Brown to the team’s training camp where he tutored some of the frontcourt players.
And though the Pistons decided to hire Hall of Famer Dave Cowens and the Grizzlies held off on hiring any new employees while the team is in the process of being sold, Brown remains upbeat. For the first time in almost two decades he is able to spend time with his wife and five children. Recently the family made a trip to Disneyland, something “The Brown Bear” previously was unable to do this time of year.
“I was telling my father how rewarding that was to be able to do that in November,” said Brown. “(The experience) was unbelievable. It was priceless. It has been a true blessing that I’m able to enjoy the family at the home here.” ~ Derek Garduño