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With Announcement, Brown Gets His Due

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

February 15, 2013, 11:33 PM

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Roger Brown's family knew the announcement would be made Friday morning in Houston, and would be televised live on NBA TV.

So, his daughter Gayle and son-in-law Derrick Mayes stood – yes, stood – in front of the television and watched as the names were called. When it was announced that indeed Brown had been voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame from the ABA candidates, their first call was to Jeannie, Gayle's mother and Roger's second wife.

“I had chills,” Jeannie recalled. “It's emotional, too. I've been teary. I want Roger to be here. It's sad that he's not here.”

Related: Brown Enters Hall »

Brown, who died of liver cancer at the age of 54 in 1997, left behind a complicated legacy, one that included championships on the basketball court with the ABA Pacers and a belated victory in the court of law. He had been banned from the NCAA and NBA for having a loose relationship with a gambler, Jack Molinas, the victim of a virtual witch hunt that also claimed fellow Brooklyn schoolboy Connie Hawkins.

Both were saved by the ABA, and later exonerated legally and received financial compensation. Hawkins jumped to the NBA while Brown remained in the ABA, where he helped the Pacers to three championships and built a reputation as one of the game's greatest clutch players.

Hawkins was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

News of Brown's honor spread quickly throughout the Pacers' ABA community. Jeannie received calls from the likes of former players Steve Chubin, Tom Thacker and Darnell Hillman, all of whom roomed with Brown, along with Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Billy Keller, Bob Netolicky, Jerry Harkness and Larry Cannon. And, of course, former coach Bob “Slick” Leonard, who played an integral role in reviving and advancing Brown's career.

“We all stay connected,” Jeannie Brown said.

Brown and Daniels are the first two representatives of the Hall's initiative to recognize players and coaches from the ABA. Daniels, in fact, was upset last year upon receiving notification of his honor that Brown had not been the first.

“Maybe I deserved it, but Roger Brown to me was the best basketball player I've ever seen,” Daniels said. “He had a high basketball IQ, he was extraordinarily athletic and he understood what it takes to win games. I defy anybody in the world to stop him from getting to the basket.”

Brown was one of the game's great one-on-one players, a graceful forward who was deceptively quick and had an endless variety of moves. It wasn't unusual for Leonard, when a game-winning basket was required, to say “Let's give it to Roger and go drink beer.” Brown would be isolated on the wing and go to work while his teammates watched.

Brown averaged 18 points in his eight seasons with the Pacers, which included a 10-game stint at the end of the 1974-75 season. He was an All-Star in the ABA's first four seasons, beginning in 1967-68, and a first-team all-ABA selection in 1971. That honor reflected his standout performance in the ABA championship series the previous season, when the Pacers won their first championship over the Los Angeles Stars.

Brown averaged 28.5 points in that six-games series. His absolute peak came in Game 4, when he scored 53 points on 18-of-29 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and passed out six assists in a 142-120 victory that gave the Pacers a 3-1 lead.

“That was one of the best series I'd ever seen an individual have,” teammate and captain Freddie Lewis said. “We would go to this Putt Putt course and play miniature golf on the days of the games (in Los Angeles) to pass the time away, and then Roger would tell us, 'I'm going to get my 40 tonight.' We'd say, 'Yeah, right,' and then he'd do it so smoothly you didn't even notice he had done it.

“He'd always give it to us when we needed it. I would tell him, 'Rog, it's time for you to wake up now; let's go to work,' and he'd get it done.”

Brown was the first player to sign a contract with the franchise when it was incorporated in 1967, although Lewis was the first to agree to terms with general manager Mike Storen.

Indianapolis Star sports editor Bob Collins, who had been instrumental in the formation of the franchise, had called Indianapolis native and Cincinnati Royals star Oscar Robertson about becoming a player-coach for the franchise. Robertson said no, but recommended the Pacers sign Brown. So, after signing his contract in West Lafayette late one morning, Storen's first act was to drive to Dayton, Ohio, where Brown had been working in a General Motors factory, and talk with Brown.

Brown, 25 at the time and perhaps already past his prime because of the miles logged on hard outdoor courts, was skeptical of all authority figures by that time and was hesitant to give up his job to take a chance on a new league. But he later drove to Indianapolis with first wife, Carolyn, and signed a contract with Storen, who had never seen Brown play.

“I didn't need any other recommendation,” said Storen, when reached in Atlanta. “If the greatest player in the game (Robertson) of that time says this guy is as good or better than I am, there's nothing better to do than sign him.”

Friday's news of Brown's selection to the Hall provided final confirmation of that for Storen. And a final validation for Brown.

“I'm gonna go get a drink,” Storen said.