Brown views ‘Last Dance’ through lens of how to take next step to Pistons leadership
Sam Forencich (NBAE/Getty)
Bruce Brown has already beaten the odds.
The 42nd pick in the 2018 draft, Brown has played 132 NBA games even with his second season cut short – at least temporarily – by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the NBA to suspend the schedule on March 11.
Only two of the 10 players taken 42nd before Brown managed to play in more than 100 games. Two others never played a single NBA game and three more played fewer than 40 games. It’s basically a 50-50 shot that you’ll ever make a dent in the NBA if you’re drafted 42nd.
So don’t bet against Bruce Brown when his major takeaway from watching “The Last Dance” is that he’d like to grow into the type of forceful leader Michael Jordan became after brushing up against the Bad Boys and having his lunch money stolen once too often.
“I’ve learned his work ethic was crazy. You hear about it, but, man, he was just on a different level and he wasn’t afraid to get on his teammates,” Brown said in a video media conference last week. “He was the ultimate leader and I’m going to try to be that guy next year, just have a voice.”
It’s always easier to lead from the front. When you’re among the greatest players to ever lace up sneakers, as Jordan was, the leadership stage is forever available to you. Jordan never shirked the responsibility that comes with that, but he always would have been viewed as a leader of those Bulls teams even if he’d occasionally erred.
It’s different for less celestial stars and certainly for players of Brown’s stature. Their commitment has to be unwavering for their voice to carry. Role players who call out teammates for cutting corners don’t ever get to break form. But ask anyone under the Pistons umbrella who’s been around Brown for his nearly two years in Detroit and you’ll get the same story. Brown would be the last guy they’d expect to give anything less than his most conscientious effort.
It’s the quality that led Ed Stefanski to pick Brown in his first draft in charge of the Pistons front office. It’s the quality that caught Dwane Casey’s eye in Brown’s first Summer League practice. And it’s the reason Casey went to Brown before his second season started to let him know he’d earned the right to have his voice heard.
Brown espouses everything Casey wants from his players, which isn’t a long list: play hard, play smart, play together. Sounds simple, but then reality intervenes. Adversity, external influences and the constant pull between individual and collective interests are everyday challenges. The role player who can navigate those obstacles and still function to the fullest of expectations is an invaluable asset.
Michael Curry was such a player in his Pistons career. Lindsey Hunter was such a player. Ben Wallace was the patron saint of that type of player, elevating himself from role player to All-NBA player and four-time Defensive Player of the Year – and a player at the heart of an NBA champion.
Brown played a good chunk of last season with a thumb injury that he casually mentioned during Friday’s media session required surgery to repair a ligament on April 23. Brown spent the first two weeks after the March 11 suspension of the season in self-quarantine in Detroit, then went home to Boston for a few weeks – he found a gym to work out in there, he says – and has been back in Detroit for nearly a month. The surgery changed his status to a player recovering from injury, allowing the Pistons a waiver for Brown to use the Pistons Performance Center for his rehabilitation.
That Brown played through the injury – “I had it taped a lot, a hard surface behind it in case I got hit … when I got hit it hurt really bad but I just played through it; I’m tough” – and his response to how it would affect him if the season were to resume – “If the season was to start, I’d be back” – underscore the essence of Brown and his value to Casey and the Pistons at a time of transition for the organization.
Brown is exactly the kind of player a franchise at the crossroads the Pistons find themselves need to lessen the pain of rebuilding. As the Pistons add to their talent base, capitalizing on favorable draft position and the cap space they’ve created, players with Brown’s purpose and work ethic are the shining examples in the locker room Casey will covet.
The fact he’s digesting “The Last Dance” not as pure entertainment in these times but as a how-to guide to evolve as a leader furthers the perception of Brown as that player.
“You’ve got to know your personnel. You’ve got to know who you can talk to, who you can yell at, who you need to pull aside,” Brown said of the nuance of leadership. “I’ve done that at every level except now. I think I can be that guy, for sure.”
Brown’s already beaten the odds of a 42nd pick and shown enough in his two NBA seasons to suggest he’ll lap the average career of less than five seasons. If he says he can be that guy – the kind of guy Michael Jordan would want in his locker room and at his side – don’t bet against him.