For the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s been a long road from the summer of 2013 to where they are now, a championship contender with maybe the best starting lineup in the NBA.
The face of the Sixers for the entire journey has been coach Brett Brown, the man who took a unique path to the NBA. As he enters his seventh season as Sixers head coach, here are 10 things to know about the 58 year old.
True hoop genes: Brown was born Feb. 16, 1961 in Maine. He played for his father at South Portland High School and for (future Knicks, Celtics, Kentucky and Louisville coach) Rick Pitino at Boston University. As a high-school senior, he led South Portland to a 29-0 record and a state title. As a college senior, he helped BU reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 24 years. “There’s no team in America that was in better shape than we were,” Brown said about his college squad. “Pitino really — and I say this as an extreme compliment — just broke us down, to where I pressed in every second of every game that I ever played for him for four years.”
Working 9 to 5: After Pitino left for the NBA, Brown served as a graduate assistant at BU under future Pistons coach John Kuester. He then ventured into the corporate world, doing sales for AT&T. “I was just at the right place at the right time, making fairly easy money, and I got tired,” Brown would later say about his job away from the game. “I really wasn’t a suit guy. I wasn’t a 9-to-5 guy. And I just had more to do.”
A life-changing trip: In 1987, Brown traveled to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. There, he met his future wife, Anna, and eventually took a job as an assistant coach with the Melbourne Tigers of the National Basketball League. In 1993, he was hired as coach of the North Melbourne Giants, who won the 1994 championship with Brown being named NBL Coach of the Year.
Back to the States … and back again: Having met Brown at a basketball camp run by former Spur Andrew Gaze, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford brought Brown to San Antonio as an intern for the 1998-99 season, when the franchise won its first championship. “It was, effectively, a sabbatical,” Brown has said of that season. “I was a guest of the club.” Brown then returned to Australia for two seasons as the coach of the Sydney Kings. He also served as the coach of the Australian National Team at the 2010 World Championship and 2012 Olympics..
To the NBA for good: The Spurs hired Brown as a player-development coach in 2002, the year that they also brought rookie Manu Ginobili over from Europe. “He was basically the guy assigned to me,” Ginobili said of Brown 15 years later. “We spent a lot of time together. We worked out a lot of hours. I absolutely love the guy. High-quality coach, even higher quality guy, fun to be around. I’m completely biased talking about him. I really appreciated him. He’s one of my favorite people, not coaches.” Brown spent the next 11 seasons with the Spurs, winning three more championships (’03, ’05 and ’07) and being promoted to assistant coach in ’07.
Let ‘The Process’ begin: After an extended coaching search in the summer of 2013, the Sixers hired Brown at a time when general manager Sam Hinkie was tearing down a team that had reached Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. “We went through an exhaustive search to find the right head coach for our organization, one who had a passion for developing talent, a strong work ethic to help create the kind of culture we hope for, and a desire to continually improve,” Hinkie said in 2013. “Brett has all of that.” Brown said later that he turned down the job three times before accepting it.
A slow start: As part of “The Process,” Brown accumulated a 75-253 (.229) record over his first four seasons as Sixers coach, with the team ranking last in offensive efficiency in each of those four seasons. “It was about trying to build something,” Brown said of his early years in Philadelphia. “Where in life can you have a chance to put your own thumbprint on a culture? … I felt like we could actually do it here … And I never left the areas of development and relationships.” Entering 2019-20 (his seventh year on the Sixers’ bench), Brown still has the worst winning percentage (.362) among current coaches that have been in their position for more than a season. But he has survived two transitions at the top of basketball operations in Philly, temporarily serving as the head of basketball ops himself (and running the 2018 Draft) after Bryan Colangelo’s resignation in 2018.
Feeling the postseason pain: Brown has been on the wrong side of three of the most iconic postseason shots in the last 20 years: Derek Fisher’s buzzer-beater in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals, Ray Allen’s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of the 2013 Finals, and Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater in the 2019 Eastern Conference semis. “I have experienced that type of pain,” Brown said at a coaches clinic before the ’19-20 season. And about Leonard’s shot specifically, Brown added, “I haven’t experienced that type of pain.”
Running in the rain: Part of Brown’s pre-game routine is a four-to five-mile run, but not on a treadmill. “No matter how cold, no matter if it’s raining,” he told Grantland in 2014. “I need to get out and get some fresh air. It’s a little bit sick, but that’s me.”
A true clinician: For the last five years, Brown has put on a clinic for local coaches, passing on some of the knowledge that he has gained over the last 30-plus years. Brown has his own branch of the Popovich coaching tree, with former assistant Lloyd Pierce now the coach in Atlanta. Mike D’Antoni (Houston) and Monty Williams (Phoenix) also served as assistants in Philadelphia in between their current coaching jobs. Another assistant, Billy Lange, was hired as coach at St. Joseph’s in March of 2019.