Petersen, Brown Share 3 Decades Of Friendship And Basketball

Petersen, Brown Share 3 Decades Of Friendship, Basketball

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Wolves Vice President of Fan Experience & Community Basketball Jeff Munneke didn’t need to say a word.

He was sitting at Cuzzy’s in downtown Minneapolis about a year and a half ago with television analyst Jim Petersen, Wolves Basketball Academy director Steve Brown and De La Salle boys basketball coach Dave Thorson during what was supposed to be a relatively routine breakfast—grabbing a bite to eat and tossing around a little hoops knowledge. But when a group like that gets together, particularly with Petersen and Brown involved, dialogue rarely stops when the main course is complete.

That’s when the Xs and Os really heat up.

Before he knew it, Munneke felt like he was in the middle of a basketball tutorial. They requested notepads from the waitress. Napkins transformed into makeshift whiteboards. Salt and pepper shakers and ketchup bottles marked different positions on the table—their improvised court.

“I just listened, took notes, and had one of the most enjoyable basketball experiences I ever had,” Munneke said. “My basketball IQ rose about 100 points sitting there.”

You know Petersen as the knowledgeable voice breaking down high pick-and-rolls and hard hedges on Fox Sports North during the Wolves season, and you see him as an assistant under Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve during the summer—last week, he won his second WNBA title with the organization. Brown is as identifiable with youth basketball camps as they come in the Midwest, having started making the circuit three decades ago and continuously coaching kids of all ages on the fundamentals of basketball. But Petersen and Brown share more than individual notoriety, deep knowledge of the game and an employment umbrella with Minnesota’s professional hoops franchises.

They share a deep friendship dating back to 1983 when Petersen, an upper classman at the University of Minnesota, started working long hours on his game with Brown, then an up-and-coming assistant coach just five years removed from a standout career of his own at South Dakota State.

“It’s a small world,” Petersen said. “We talk about that all the time.”

Back then, Petersen was a 6-foot-10 big man looking to hone his game as he hoped to lead the Gophers to success before trying to make his own leap the leap to the NBA. He and frontcourt teammate John Shasky worked tirelessly together on their skills—trying to hone every part of their games as they took the next step in their careers.

Brown was their man. He worked with Petersen on his footwork and moves around the basket, his rebounding, his explosion and his ball handling. And more than anything, Brown—who Petersen calls one of the best shooters he’s ever been around—helped him work on his shot from all over the court. Focusing on Petersen’s release, Brown helped him alleviate some of the side-spin in his ball’s rotation.

“They’d bust it, and they’d bust it, and they’d bust it,” Brown said. “We kept pushing it. I don’t know if there was a better athlete than Pete. I mean, Pete could just run.”

It paid off.

Petersen put in eight years in the NBA with the Rockets, Kings and Warriors. He made it big by helping Houston to the 1986 NBA Finals and parlayed that run into a longterm career in the league. But more than that, those long hours working together on the court forged a lifelong friendship—conceived in basketball and cultivated through camps, golf (both admit Brownie has a few strokes on Pete) and routine meetings like that breakfast with Munneke at Cuzzy’s.

Their friendship continues to flourish 30 years later.

The thing you need to understand about Brown and Petersen is the level of respect they have for one another. Petersen reveres Brown—who is in the South Dakota Basketball Hall of Fame—for his basketball knowledge, his demeanor and how Brown helped Petersen foster belief in his own game.

Brown’s relationship to Petersen during their days with the Gophers mirrors how Petersen now works with Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson. Tireless and countless hours spent together on the court after practice, knowing, believing and vocalizing how the player’s individual talent can achieve greatness if coupled with the right amount of work. Brunson was once again a WNBA All-Star in July.

“You have to remember when I was at the University of Minnesota, things did not always go my way,” Petersen said. “Steve Brown was one of the guys who believed in me and always felt I had what it takes to play in the NBA. That was huge for me. He was my Flavor Flav…my hype man. He was always telling me how good I am…and that nobody could do things on the floor I could do.

“It’s exactly how I talk to Brunson. I’m in her ear all the time that she is the greatest. Nobody in the WNBA can handle her. I’m her biggest fan. I think coaches need to instill a sense of ‘anything is possible’ and to always believe in your abilities through hard work.”

Brown was right about Petersen’s game, too. All these years later, he still raves about the Petersen’s ability on the court.

“He’s still big, he’s tall, but he could run,” Brown said. “And you couldn’t run with Pete. He could get out and fly. If we had a little more open offense for him to run, like the styles of offense you see today, compare him to [Indiana’s Cody] Zeller—the way Zeller gets out and runs. Pete was a better runner than Zeller. That’s how good an athlete Pete was.”

Five years ago, with Brown running successful camps and the Wolves looking for someone to lead their basketball academy, Munneke said Petersen immediately vouched for Brown. Petersen had, after all, helped out when he could through the years at Brown’s youth camps.

Brown said whenever he asked, Petersen was willing to come. And he wasn’t there to watch.

Petersen got in the middle of the action, helping teach kids the proper techniques and doing his best to teach the game to the next generation.

“When Pete comes to a clinic, it isn’t just throw the ball out,” Brown said. “A lot of guys just make an appearance. Not Pete. Pete works.”

There’s a reason why Petersen has been so willing to help Brown out in these camps beyond teaching the game and helping a friend. Petersen appreciates Brown’s clinics and the type of message he can send to young basketball players.

It’s the same message Brown sent to him as a player, and it still holds true today. Brown’s coaching philosophy includes positive energy, drive and determination to succeed. And it adjusts based on the kid’s needs. If one player has gifted ability and another doesn’t quite have that same level of athleticism, Brown is able to treat both with respect and empathy.

“He was always very what I call ‘process driven’ as opposed to being ‘results driven,’” Petersen said. “If you don’t care about making shots—‘results’—and focus more on technique—‘process’—you will in the end have greater success. Kids tend to focus on making shots versus focusing on the mechanics of their shots…Brownie taught me how to focus on hand position, follow through, ball rotation and balance. When he worked with me we never worried about the shot going in at first. It was all about practicing perfect technique, and if you do that you will eventually have success.”

To this day, the two communicate as frequently as they can despite their rigorous schedules. They don’t get to his the golf course as much as they did before Petersen took the Lynx job, and time continues to separate the present from those long workouts at the University of Minnesota all those years ago.

No longer is this a relationship between a player and a coach. Those days are gone. But they’re still close friends—even 30 years down the road.

“We laugh about that,” Brown said. “He even said it, ‘Can you believe it, Brownie?’ I say no. Here we are, after being out doing all the things we’ve been doing, but to be back here. He’s still here. We get hooked up today, and here we are.”

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