Taking Account of Roger Brown

by Jeff Tzucker

September 8, 2013

Roger Brown eludes me.

He doesn't elude me in, say, the way quantum physics eludes me. It's a little more practical than that and more sentimental.

He eludes me as a player. As a man.

His story has been told--and told well. But, before this past year, I was largely unaware of his back story. And, if I am totally honest, I was unaware of how incredible he was on the court.

How can a grown man of 37 years like me, from the Indianapolis area, an admitted lifelong Pacers fan--a homer, if you will--not know more about Roger Brown the basketball player than seeing his jersey sway in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse?

So, I think to myself: Who is this guy? Whose name has been called to the Hall of Fame? Who is he?

If you read all the accounts of him, he was a cool character, beset by deep betrayals that set his life on a distant course from basketball before the ABA saved his career. If not for the ABA, Roger Brown would be an incredibly unknown person. Unknown to everyone save for Baby Boomers in the New York City area in the early 60s who remember him.

And what a shame that would've been.

Who is this man who dropped 53 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists in an ABA Finals game?

With an incredible lack of video footage of the old ABA and NBA days, my mind gets set on stats and first-hand accounts of him. My mind gets to wondering in the world of metaphor, of similes (Hello, junior high English class!) to make sense of Roger Brown, the ballplayer.

Roger Brown the man is a much more difficult comparison. One I leave for others older and wiser than me.

Might there be a comparison to Roger Brown The Ballplayer, though? Something to help us figure it out?

First, he wasn't the world's greatest scorer, but he could do so in a prodigious manner (see: 53 points in a Finals game). He seems to also have been able to score efficiently from what I can tell, averaging nearly 47% on field goals for his career.

But, for a 6-5 guard, he sure could rebound. Witness his rebounding total. For his five most productive seasons (ages 25-29), he averaged somewhere around 20 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game. Then, in the 1970 playoffs, Brown averaged 28.5 points, 10.1 boards, and 5.6 assists.

Think about that for a minute. A 6-5 guy averaging 10+ boards a game over the course of 15 games against the best competition in the league.

To illuminate, let's compare that to the Magic-Bird-Jordan era:

Larry Bird averaged 27.5 points, 11 boards, and 5.9 assists during his legendary 1984 championship season.

Magic Johnson's best playoff performance was likely '84-85 when he averaged 17.5 points, 15.2 assists (absurd!), and 7.1 rebounds.

Jordan's best statistical playoff performance was perhaps his first championship season: 1990. He averaged 36.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists. Ridiculous numbers, to be sure.

And yet, Brown is in there somewhere. Maybe a notch down stat-wise, but he's in there.

Not convinced? Let's go more recent:

Lebron 2012: 30.3/9.7/5.6

Kobe 2008: 30.1/5.7/5.6

Brown was on three championship teams. Jordan has six. Bird, three. Magic, five. Kobe, five. LeBron, two.

Did I fail to mention that Roger was 6'5", banished from basketball from ages 19-25, had bad knees from playing on asphalt during those years, lived in a time where people didn't take care of their bodies like they do now, and still put up those numbers?

Can you imagine? He missed the most formative years in a basketball player's career--college and early pros--and still put up numbers that are difficult to reconcile.

I'm putting this out there, now, here: Let there be no doubt that Roger Brown was one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. His enshrinement, however late, should never have been more than a formality if he had lived any sort of "normal" life. Instead, we've had to wait decades for his induction when, if he had been allowed to live on his own terms, his induction would've certainly been a non-debate. His greatness unquestioned.

But, alas, he didn't live a normal life. Trouble found him; undeservedly so. But ultimately, his star was too bright to burn out, he made his mark no matter what came against him, and we get to celebrate him for a small moment. To imagine, to know.

Pardon my melodrama, but I love the game of basketball. And to know he made Indiana home and helped get the Pacers on its feet where so many of my best sports memories have been made, leaves me wondering and wistful.

It should you, too.

Roger Brown, Hall of Famer. The third Pacers player to be so named. The Pacers' history is now being recognized and with it, Roger's.

It's about time the eluding stopped.

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