Coat Check | Brown a Bridge Between G League Coaches
Throughout the year, “Coat Check” highlights stories surrounding the Delaware Blue Coats, the NBA G League affiliate of the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets are currently locked into what 76ers head coach Brett Brown said would be “a fistfight" in their opening round series in the NBA Playoffs.
And while the G League Playoffs wrapped up last week, there is no shortage of links between the Sixers' and Nets' G League affiliates—the Delaware Blue Coats and Long Island Nets, respectively. Look no further than the sidelines.
Connor Johnson was named head coach of the Delaware Blue Coats back on June 18th.
Almost one month to the day later, on July 17th, the Long Island Nets tabbed Will Weaver as head coach.
The two coaches and their respective clubs met four times this season as G League Atlantic Division rivals, doing so most recently on March 22nd, in the second-to-last game of the Blue Coats’ season.
But the games between Delaware and Long Island weren’t the first instances in which these two coaches crossed paths. Not even close.
The common thread?
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown.
Sure, the basketball world can feel (or simply be) small at times. But for Johnson and Weaver, the connection that begins with the Sixers and their head coach is more fascinating than typical.
Johnson spent the previous four seasons working under Brown on the Sixers staff. Last year, before taking over the Blue Coats, he was promoted from Video Coordinator to the Sixers’ Director of Player Development and Coaching Administration.
Weaver, who was named the 2018-19 NBA G League Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year, served on Brown’s staff in Philadelphia from 2013 through 2016.
“Will hired me to work for the Sixers,” said Johnson. “He was a video coordinator and they needed someone to help Brett out. And that’s how I got my job here.”
Both coaches recognize Brown’s impact on their respective careers.
“He was huge about just giving us a chance,” said Johnson. “Brett’s a loyal guy who cares about people and works on developing them. I think it’s a big credit to Coach Brown that he’s had people under him, like Will, who are doing really well. It’s exciting to see.”
“[Brown] is just one of the most unique people, much less basketball coaches, that you’ll ever be around,” Weaver said. “The degree to which I, to this day, model the way I coach and the way that I navigate through this business has a ton to do with him, his support and all the things I learned while sitting next to him.”
But this story connects even further. The day before his Nets faced the Blue Coats in late March, Weaver was named head coach of the Sydney Kings of the Australian National Basketball League.
From 2000 through 2002, that same job belonged to none other than Brown.
“To follow in his footsteps and get to coach a team like Sydney, with their history and being in one of the world capitals, is a really special thing for me,” said Weaver. “I had a unique chance to get to connect with [Brett] about it and get his thoughts and advice. Hopefully we’ll get to host him and treat him like the legend that he is.”
In his first season as a G League head coach, Weaver led Long Island to a 34-16 regular season record and secured the top seed in the G League playoffs. In the team’s first-ever playoff appearance, the Nets advanced all the way to the G League Finals before falling to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) in Friday’s winner-take-all Game 3.
“[Weaver’s] wife was a medical student becoming a doctor,” Johnson said, reflecting on some of the shared experiences with his coaching counterpart. “My girlfriend did the same thing this past year. So Will and I have been in touch frequently for a long time.”
“For us both to be G League head coaches is sort of a trip. And now for Will to be moving on, it’s great.”
As for the current state of affairs between the Blue Coats' and Nets' parent organizations, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals clash is tied at one game apiece.
Select photos courtesy of Wayne Terry