A Labor of Love: Exposing Roger Brown's Under-Told Story
Ted Green didn't grow up in Indianapolis. He never saw the Pacers of the ABA play. He was even skeptical of this whole basketball-is-religion-in-Indiana thing when he moved here in 2001.
Why, then, did he devote two years of his life and a significant amount of his own money to produce a documentary on former Pacers player Roger Brown?
"Ignorance," he said.
Green's labor of love will give birth on Thursday when WFYI premieres his 72-minute feature, "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" at 9 p.m. It will air again several times in weeks ahead, and could very well run in other markets such as New York and Boston. The story is a great one, and based on the clips I've seen, so is the product.
Green isn't sure where he'll watch it. He's been invited to the home of Jeannie Brown, Roger's second wife. He might watch from his own house. "Or, I might just go to a bar and watch it over a few cold ones, ABA Pacer-style," he said.
The truth is that people who write books or produce documentaries such as this one are often exhausted and in some ways sick of the project by the time the product is ready for public consumption. It's the same as how some people describe climbing a mountain. When you finally reach the top, you're so tired of the journey you just want to get back down.
Green's looking a little haggard as the journey ends. He'll appreciate it more in time, because he's accomplished something that will stand the test of time. He's exposed an under-told story and a gross injustice, with high production values no less. It's more than a story about a former outstanding player who's been selected for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It's a human story about a player who nearly had the game taken away by a legal decision that was later reversed.
Brown was one of the greatest players ever to come out of New York City, and attended Dayton University. He was banned from NCAA competition after his freshman season, however, and from the NBA as well, because of an association with noted gambler Jack Molinas that was, to say the least, flimsy. Molinas had introduced himself to Brown, and might have bought a meal for him now and then, but Brown did not bet on games or shave points. He, like Connie Hawkins, later received a cash settlement from the NBA in acknowledgment of the injustice. Hawkins jumped to the NBA, where he completed his Hall of Fame career. Brown stayed in the ABA.
Brown was the first player to sign a contract with the Pacers when they were formed in 1967, based on the recommendation of Oscar Robertson, who had played against him in off-season pickup games. Although 25 years old when the ABA was formed, and already operating on knees softened from playing so many games on asphalt and concrete, he was a first-team all-ABA selection in 1971, played in four All-Star games and was a member of the Pacers' three championship teams. He was coming off the bench by the third one, in 1973, was traded away in 1974 and retired after playing 10 games with the Pacers at the end of the 1974-75 season.
His shining moment, however, came in the 1970 ABA Finals when the Pacers defeated the Los Angeles Stars in six games for their first title. He averaged 28.5 points in the series and scored 53 in a win in L.A. He also once hit all 14 shots in a game, and was one of the game's greatest clutch players. Pacers coach Slick Leonard often sent the other four players to one side of the court and let Brown go one-on-one for clutch baskets.
All of this was news to Green, who came to Indianapolis from Miami to take a job as a sports copy editor for the Indianapolis Star in 2001. Green produced a documentary for the Star's website on John Wooden after Wooden died in 2010. It was originally intended to be six minutes long, but turned into a 30-minute feature. He successfully shopped it to WFYI, and it has since aired on 80 percent of the national public television stations. Green parlayed that into participation in WFYI's documentary, Naptown to Super City. He produced the segment on sports in Indianapolis in the 1960s, which included the formation of the Pacers. While working on that he met one of the original Pacers owners, Chuck Devoe, which led to an introduction to Brown's second wife, Jeannie, who gave him access to Brown's legal papers and other personal material.
"That's when I knew this is a story that needs to be told," Green said.
Green's effort has been both grassroots and national, a challenging combination for any documentary producer. His budget was $150,000, well short of the $1 million or so that's typical for an ESPN-style documentary. He's spent about $30,000 of his own money, much of it to track down interviews with the likes of Bill Cosby, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Reggie Miller, Bob Costas, George Gervin, Julius Erving and others. His wife Jenny, meanwhile, has kept the family fed and clothed with her income as a Star editor. Although the production is completed, it is not fully financed. The Pacers and Bankers Life are the title sponsors, and other corporations and individuals have contributed to the cause, but tax deductible donations can still be made at www.wfyi.org/rogerbrown.
"I never set out to make money on this, I won't make money on this and personally I'll lose money on this," Green said. "No problem, that's not the point. I've spent everything we've gotten to improve the footage, to improve the photos. It all costs money."
Green purchased footage from private collectors and flew around the country to record interviews with many people who played with or against Brown, or watched him. Everyone he approached cooperated except for Hawkins – ironic, since Hawkins lived a similar story.
"I was shocked by (the cooperation)," Green said. "I'm just Ted Green in Indianapolis. How do I get Bob Costas, how do I get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, how do I get Bill Cosby? I got them because they all had a personal connection with Roger.
"They all feel Roger got wronged, and that's the reason they made time for me against a million other requests for their time."
Green showed a portion of his documentary at a private gathering at Bankers Life Fieldhouse before Tuesday's game against Golden State, one that included eight of Brown's teammates and several family members. He announced there that he will dedicate the work to Arlena Smith, who was among those in attendance. She and her husband took Brown into their home after he was forced out of Dayton University.
For now, the pleasure those who were close to Brown are getting from the project is Green's greatest satisfaction. In time, he'll appreciate the result as well. He just needs to get off the mountain for awhile.
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