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Brown Makes Quiet Entrance in to Hall

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

September 8, 2013

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Roger Brown didn't like to call attention to himself during his playing career with the Pacers, other than with his performance in games, so he likely would have been pleased with the quiet nature of his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Brown's son, Roger Jr., provided the acceptance speech via a video recording, and thanked a variety of people. Brown was officially presented by fellow Pacer Hall of Famers Reggie Miller and Mel Daniels, both of whom were inducted last year.

“People want to say that I put the Indiana Pacers on the map? No. It all started with Roger Brown,” Miller said in a recorded interview shown during the induction.

Miller and Brown, the two greatest clutch performers in franchise history, were friends although they were born 23 years apart and Brown retired 12 years before Miller joined the team. Brown occasionally lent advice to Miller following practice, and Miller attended Brown's public funeral service at Market Square Arena in 1997.

Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who played five seasons in the ABA, remembered Brown for his clutch play.

“When they needed a basket, they'd go to Roger,” Erving said in a recorded statement. “Everybody in the building knew they were going to Roger – including the guy guarding him.”

Brown's induction was the final confirmation of a career that nearly ended after his freshman season at the University of Dayton. He was banned from playing college basketball and in the NBA at that point because of his acquaintance with Jack Molinas, a convicted gambler and game-fixer. Brown and Connie Hawkins, who also was banned, won a lawsuit against the NBA in 1969 and received a financial settlement.

Brown was the first player to sign a contract with the Pacers when the franchise was incorporated in 1967, the leading scorer in their first game, and the first ABA player to score 10,000 career points. He was a four-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1970 finals, when the Pacers won the first of three ABA championships.

Daniels, the first of the ABA Pacers to enter the Hall, would have preferred that Brown be first in that honor as well. How would the stoic Brown have handled such a moment?

“It would be a special situation for him, because of all the hardship he's gone through,” Daniels said. “Basketball caused him a lot of hardship and a lot of joy. I think he'd appreciate someone finally recognizing him as a basketball player. He's one of the greatest basketball players that I've ever seen. Michael Jordan is the best to me, and Roger was right there. And he was hurt (throughout his career). He had a bad back and bad knees.”

Those who knew Brown best believe he would have been emotional about his long-delayed induction, but that he would have done his best to hide those emotions. He wasn't the type to try to draw attention to himself in public, but more likely to have something to say in a private conversation.

“In a crowded room, you wouldn't come way and say what a great guy he was, but if you got him in a corner and talked to him at length you would say he was a sensational guy,” said Mike Storen, the Pacers' first general manager.

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The current Pacers president, Larry Bird, was a presenter for Brazilian Oscar Schmidt. The 6-9 forward is remembered locally for leading his country to a 120-115 victory over the U.S. team in the gold medal game of the Pan American Games at Market Square Arena in 1987. Schmidt, 29 years old at the time, scored 46 points in that game, 35 in the second half to lead a comeback over an American team that included David Robinson, Danny Manning, Pervis Ellison and Keith Smart. The loss ended a 34-game win streak for U.S. teams in Pan Am play.

Schmidt was a scorer, mostly a long-range shooter, and little else. His teammate Marcel Sousa scored 31 points in the gold medal game, while the other players focused on defending and rebounding. Schmidt summed up his team's chemistry with a legendary quote: “Some of us are piano movers and some of us are piano players.” Schmidt retired in 2003 at the age of 45. A sixth-round draft pick of New Jersey in 1984, he declined opportunities to try out for NBA teams to play in international competition. He is regarded as the unofficial all-time leading scorer in basketball, with 49,737 points.

Bird, in a pre-recorded statement, called Schmidt “one of the greatest basketball players who ever laced them up.”

Schmidt, who was recently treated for brain cancer, gave the most colorful acceptance speech of the afternoon, made frequent references to the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis. He opened by praising Bird, who stood to his right on the stage.

“It's too easy to have Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan as an idol,” Schmidt said. “They fly around and do whatever they want.

“My guy doesn't run, doesn't jump, and played the best of everybody else. He's here. This is my idol. The best player ever, in my opinion.”

Bird smiled widely, as Schmidt bowed toward him.

Former Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw, hired as Denver's head coach over the summer, was on hand to be with another inductee, fellow Oakland native Gary Payton. “This is the guy who raised me,” Payton said before the ceremony, pointing toward Shaw.

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