After 50 Seasons, Brown Still in the Conversation for Greatest Pacers Player Ever
Roger Brown is arguably the greatest player in Pacers franchise history. Even Reggie Miller himself bestowed that distinction upon Brown.
But for many fans, he is also the greatest mystery.
Brown's Hall of Fame career ended over 40 years ago, meaning multiple generations of Pacers diehards never got the chance to see him play live.
Sure, they've most likely noticed Brown's jersey number 35 hanging from the rafters, and if they've been to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in the past couple years, they've noticed the words "Hall of Fame" etched onto the bottom of his banner. But do they really understand just how good a player "The Rajah" was?
Scant footage exists from Brown's career, meaning that in order to truly appreciate Roger Brown the player, one has to piece together statistics and stories, slowing weaving together an imperfect tapestry to get a general outline of the legend.
Perhaps no player traveled a more arduous path to the pros than Brown. He was a high school phenom in Brooklyn and seemed poised for stardom when he arrived at the University of Dayton in 1960.
But after his freshman year, the NCAA banned Brown for his association with Jack Molinas, a notorious gambler and a central figure in the biggest point-shaving scandal to ever hit the NCAA.
Brown's connection to Molinas was tenuous at best. No charges were ever filed against him and no evidence was ever produced that suggested he had anything to do with point shaving or fixing games, but the NCAA still dropped the hammer on him.
The NBA, too, blackballed Brown, effectively banishing him to basketball purgatory. He was able to continue his playing career on the AAU circuit, supplementing his income by working at a General Motors plant in Dayton. He wanted to try out for the 1964 Olympic team, but was barred because of his unfavorable reputation.
Based on the recommendation of Oscar Robertson (who had played against Brown in pickup games during the offseason), Pacers general manager Mike Storen offered him a contract to become the first member of the inaugural Pacers team in 1967. Brown was already 25 years old when he finally caught a break, but boy, did Storen get his money's worth.
The stats speak for themselves. Over eight seasons in Indiana, the 6-5 forward averaged 18.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. He had the most complete all-around game of any player on those early Pacers teams and he played a pivotal role in all three of Indiana's ABA championships.
GALLERY: Photos of Brown From Our Archives »
His performance over the course of the 1970 ABA Playoffs is the stuff of legend. Over 15 games, Brown averaged 28.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He is the only player — ABA or NBA — to ever average at least 28 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in the playoffs and lead his team to a title.
Brown's performance during the 1970 ABA Finals rivals any individual series in basketball history. He had 53 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists in a Game 4 victory over the Los Angeles Stars.
Read that stat line again. Only three players have ever scored as many points in an NBA Finals game (Jerry West had 53 in 1969, Rick Barry scored 55 in 1967 and Michael Jordan tied Barry's record in 1993).
A few nights later, Brown dropped 45 to lead Indiana to its first professional championship.
Ask anyone who played alongside him or against him, and they'll tell you Roger Brown was the engine that drove those early Pacers teams. When the game was on the line, there was never any question who would have the ball in his hands.
"The Pacers were the class of the league and Roger was the class of the class," Hall of Famer Julius Erving said in Ted Green's 2013 documentary "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story."
There aren't a ton of highlights left from Roger Brown's heyday, but you don't need to watch long to get a sense of his abilities — go ahead and check out the video at the top of this story.
Brown played with an almost effortless coolness. Nicknamed "The Man of 1,000 Moves," he had penchant for making defenders look silly with a pump fake or hesitation dribble.
"You know how they say they can't guard Kobe one-on-one, they can't guard Michael one-on-one? They couldn't guard Roger Brown one-on-one," Hall of Famer George Gervin said.
Brown's career was shorter than most. He got a late start thanks to the NCAA and NBA ban and his knees betrayed him his last couple seasons with the Pacers — a side effect from all the pickup games he played on asphalt and concrete during his years in exile.
Still, Brown's overall resume more than holds it own weight. Basketball-Reference.com uses win shares to compare players across eras with what they term a "similarity score." Using the measurement, which stacks up Brown's career against other forwards throughout NBA and ABA history, the site reveals that Brown's career is most similar to three-time All-Star Kevin Love.
Stylistically, a better comparison might lie right here in Indiana. Brown's career averages are remarkably similar to those of current Pacers star Paul George. Through his first six seasons (which included three All-Star selections), George averaged 16.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists — all a little under Brown's career numbers.
But those who saw Brown play hold him in even higher regard.
"Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West...I think he was in that category of player," longtime Pacers executive Donnie Walsh said in the 2013 documentary.
The deeper you dig into Roger Brown's playing days, the more apparent it becomes just how great he really was. Through 50 seasons of Pacers basketball, there's a strong argument that Brown might have been the most talented player to ever don an Indiana uniform.
So come on out to Saturday's game against the Celtics, where we'll be honoring Brown and the rest of the players who took the floor for the Pacers in the 1960s. Linger for an extra second on that banner with the number 35, clutch your limited edition Roger Brown bobblehead, and remember one of the Pacers' all-time greats.