Draft Tales: Gerald Brown's Undrafted Journey

by Matt Petersen

It’s not cliché to say the NBA Draft is about dreams coming true.

Problem is, once prospect No. 60’s name is called, everyone else has to wake up.

Former Suns guard Gerald Brown (1998-99) found that out for himself in the 1998 NBA Draft. Coming off a standout four-year career at Pepperdine, the 6-4 guard was hoping his college resumé would be enough to earn the ultimate NBA shout-out: his name being announced at the draft podium.

If that wasn’t enough, Brown’s activities that week had taken him to the ultimate celebration spot. Waves Head Coach Lorenzo Romar had recruited his star player to help out at a youth camp at Malibu.

Romar was serving as a key middle man between Brown and several NBA teams. Leading up to the draft, recent communication had been encouraging.

“He got a call from, I think it was Utah, saying they were going to draft me,” Brown said. “I also got a call from the Pacers [saying they were interested].”

Behind the optimism created by those recent phone calls, Wilmar called out to his protégé.

“Let’s go down to the sports bar and watch the draft,” he said to Brown.

Indiana was indeed interested, but Brown was deemed a second-round talent at the time. The Pacers only had a first-round pick. With Reggie Miller, Travis Best, Mark Jackson, Jalen Rose and Haywoode Workman already manning the backcourt, the Pacers’ priority was drafting a big man.

They did so, taking Al Harrington with the 25th pick.

That left the Jazz, who had the second-to-last selection of the draft (57).

It would have been a dream scenario for Brown. Utah was just coming off back-to-back NBA Finals appearances, and shoe-in Hall-of-Famer John Stockton would provide a perfect mentor to a rookie point guard.

Instead, Utah duplicated Indiana’s strategy and went with a big man, selecting Xavier senior Torraye Braggs.

Braggs was waived before the season started and didn’t latch onto a regular season NBA roster until 2003.

Brown wasn’t left to wallow in disappointment too long. The Pacers were still interested and called to discuss other offseason options.

Time was short, however. A collective bargaining struggle and subsequent lockout was looming, meaning a short window remained in which teams and players would be allowed to communicate.

Indiana hosted a minicamp for undrafted rookies and free agents, and Brown’s play left them intrigued.

“I played well there,” he admitted. “I met with Donnie Walsh at the end of the camp and he told me he wanted me to play for them. After all the [collectiving bargaining] was complete, he wanted to get something done.

The conversation made Brown “ecstatic.” He called his parents as soon as possible, admitting that he was “on could nine” knowing he had a spoken promise from an NBA team.

Then the lockout descended, along with accompanying team-player radio darkness.

Brown’s dream would have to be put on hold.

Teams and their officials were prohibited from communicating with players, but there were no such restrictions between the players themselves.

Brown was still living in his college apartment when his phone rang.

“Hey Gerald. This is Rex Chapman.”

Brown was nonplussed. Of course he knew who Chapman was. The Suns guard had flourished as a catch-and-shoot weapon in Phoenix, culminated by a 1997 first-round performance in Seatlte that included a 42-point outburst in Game 3 and an instant classic buzzer beater in Game 4.

“Hey what’s going on?” the undrafted rookie replied, trying to act natural. “How you doing, Rex?”

Chapman, it turned out, wanted to know if Brown could fly down to Phoenix and work out with other current Suns players. The NBA hopeful had impressed then-Head Coach Danny Ainge at the Long Beach Summer League, and Chapman had taken that tip with him into the lockout.

Most prospects would take that invitation in a heartbeat, but that same time frame saw another phone call take place. This time the voice on the other end belonged to Pacers star Reggie Miller.

The face of Indiana basketball for the last decade, Miller was also reaching out to Brown to see if he would work out with the Pacers.

“At that point I had a decision to make,” Brown said.

Undrafted rookies know nothing is given and everything needs to be taken. In order for the latter to happen, there needs to be something to take.

Again, the Pacers already boasted a full backcourt. It was so full, in fact, that a season-long roster spot was far from a certainty.

Phoenix, however, had just bid a fond farewell to longtime Suns legend Kevin Johnson, who had retired after 11 seasons in the league. The Suns had also traded backup point guard Steve Nash to Dallas on draft night in exchange for three role players (none were point guards) and a future first round pick (which turned out to be Shawn Marion).

All of that left All-Star guard Jason Kidd without a backup heading into the 1999 season.

Brown made his decision and, not long after, he was guarding Kidd in informal workouts.

Seven months after waiting in vain for his name to be called at the draft, Brown was signing it on a one-year contract offer.

“I was blessed enough to make it in the league and get a chance to try out for an NBA team,” he said.