Hubie deserves Hall pass for teaching prowess

Updated: September 12, 2005, 10:33 AM ET
By Ken Shouler | ESPN.com

Hubie Brown goes into the Hall of Fame today as a contributor. The honor befits the former high school math teacher from Fairlawn, N.J., who taught basketball as a coach for 16 years and again as a broadcaster.

Brown has also been the unofficial master of oratory at basketball clinics.

"He took speeches and clinics to a different level," Chuck Daly said. "He took it to Broadway."

Hubie Brown
Hubie Brown has a wealth of basketball knowledge.

But if Brown hadn't delivered a single up-tempo lecture and had never broadcast a quarter for CBS or Turner or ABC, he'd still deserve the honor as a coach.

Why? There's evidence both ways, enough to start a tempest in a teapot. So let's have at it.

Yes, it's true that his combined ABA-NBA coaching record over 15 seasons was 528 wins and 559 loses, which calculates to a less-than-Auerbachian .486 mark. But there's a heap of evidence on the other side, spread out across Brown's five coaching jobs.

After Brown held assistant coaching posts at William & Mary and Duke, Larry Costello, Brown's guard mate at Niagara University in the early 1950s, asked Brown to be his assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 1972-73 season.

"Milwaukee was a major time of my development under the guidance of Costello," Brown said. "We had the best record two years in a row, but players nine through 12 never played and were constantly unhappy. So I thought you could play 10 and have only two unhappy. And that way you are constantly developing nine and 10 in case of an injury.

"The second thing I learned was that you could practice a professional team the same as high school and college squads, as long as you were organized and your practice sessions were meticulously planned and the players could see that their potential was being developed."

HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS
ESPN Classic will broadcast the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions live on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, following a retrospective look at great moments in the careers of three inductees.

1 p.m. ET: 1984 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 6, Boston Celtics vs. New York Knicks (Hubie Brown)
3 p.m. ET: 1999 NCAA National Championship, UConn (Jim Calhoun) vs. Duke
5 p.m. ET: 2003 NCAA National Championship, Syracuse (Jim Boeheim) vs. Kansas
7:30 p.m. ET: Basketball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

Even the two stars -- a 35-year-old Oscar Robertson and the NBA's best player at the time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- signed on for the vigorous practices.

Going for a second title, the Bucks lost to Boston in seven games in the 1974 Finals.

"We lost [guard] Lucius Allen to an injury before the playoffs," Brown recalls. "With Lucius I think we would have won."

In 1975, Brown got a call to coach the ABA's Kentucky Colonels, for whom expectations were high. Kentucky had been to the ABA finals twice and lost, and then endured a humiliating four-zip dusting at the hands of Julius Erving and the New York Nets in the '74 semifinals.

Guard Gene Littles recalled the new atmosphere that Brown created the following season: "You could feel the discipline Hubie wanted from the moment you walked into the dressing room for practice. He wanted you to 'think practice.'"

The Colonels charted everything, says Brown: "We charted our play calls, plus our side-out-of-bounds and under-out-of-bounds plays. Along with that, we ensured that our three key shooters got their shots each quarter. Then we charted fast-break and second shots for both teams. That showed us how we were defending.

"We also counted forced turnovers and deflections, which is when we change the flight of the ball on a pass or a dribble, so you get the advantage of the shot clock. We tried to get seven deflections a quarter and that's difficult -- you get 28 a game and you're going to win and win big against good teams. And then we charted all of our presses. Back then, our presses were full-court, three-quarter and half-court and then at the top of the circle, with all four areas being different types of presses. We also charted what you were doing against our presses."

And so on. … Class dismissed.

With perimeter shooter Dan Issel and the 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore playing the high and low posts respectively, Louie Dampier shooting 3s -- and sinking a mother lode of clutch shots -- and Ted McClain putting opposing guards in a defensive stranglehold, the team went 35-6 over the last 41 games, including a 4-1 pasting of the three-time champion Indiana Pacers in the finals. The Colonels had their first -- and last -- championship. Brown had delivered a title in his first year as a head coach.

By summer's end, however, financially troubled Kentucky sold Issel for $500,000 to the Baltimore Claws (who quickly traded him to Denver before going out of business three days before the start of the season). McClain was sold to the Nets. Kentucky was supposed to come to the NBA in the merger, but owner John Y. Brown decided to take a $3 million settlement for his team instead of paying $3.2 million to join the NBA.

"The 1975 Kentucky Colonels are the best team I ever coached," Brown says. "No other team has even come close."

After Kentucky, Brown was hired to coach Atlanta for the 1976-77 season. The Hawks had won 29 games the previous year, and Ted Turner, who bought them in the middle of Brown's first year, cut payroll from $1.4 million to a microscopic $800,000, a figure that Abdul-Jabbar and David Thompson were making by themselves.

But Turner allowed the team to be overhauled and Brown cleaned house, removing unproductive players.

"We unloaded eight players and kept four," Brown recalls, employing an approach he would work with Jerry West to repeat in Memphis.

In 1977, he got 22 points and 13 rebounds a game from power forward Truck Robinson, but lost him to free agency before the following season. Then Brown shifted gears.

"We built the team on speed and quickness and that was the first time in the history of the league that anyone did that," he said. "We pressed all over and played 10 guys, just like in Kentucky."

With 10, the team could play a trapping style over 82 games and the playoffs. In 1978, with standouts such as forwards Dan Roundfield and John Drew and guard Eddie Johnson, the team jumped from 31 wins to 41 and to the playoffs for the first time in five years, losing in the first round to eventual champ Washington. For turning the team around, Brown took Coach of the Year honors (the Red Auerbach Trophy).

Atlanta improved to 46 wins and then 50 over the next years -- in all, improving for four consecutive seasons.

"They were the youngest team in the league with the lowest payroll and they played an exciting brand of basketball." Brown remembers.

But in 1981, the team faltered to 31-48, and Brown's five-year term was over.

Hubie Brown
Hubie got the Knicks back to winning.

His third head-coaching stop was in New York for the 1982-83 season. The Knicks had won just 33 games the year before. The team was great in memory only, with Garden aficionados recalling the exploits of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and company, who were just retired jerseys dangling from the building's rafters.

But, as in Atlanta, Brown changed eight of 12 players right away. Trades for Bernard King, Louis Orr and Ernie Grunfeld were completed just days before the season began. After a dreadful start, the team won 44 games, boasting the next-best record to Philadelphia from the All-Star break to the end of the season. The Knicks took New Jersey in the first round before losing four straight to the Sixers, who went on to win the title.

In 1984 New York won 47 games. Besides King's incredible shooting (he set a Madison Square Garden record with 60 on Christmas Day, 1984), what is most memorable was Brown's wholesale substitution pattern. His five starters were King, Bill Cartwright, Ray Williams, Truck Robinson and Rory Sparrow. But because this quintet was older, he pressed only with the "second unit" of Orr, Grunfeld, Darrell Walker, Trent Tucker and Marvin "the Human Eraser" Webster.

"We played 10 guys every quarter," Brown notes. More often than not, he says, the second unit would increase the lead provided by the starters.

The 1983-84 Knicks bested Detroit in five games -- and left Chuck Daly empty-handed -- as King averaged 42.6 points, breaking Elgin Baylor's record for a five-game series. In the first game of the series, Brown, who called every play, called King's number, "power right," on 13 consecutive trips down the floor.

"On those 13 trips he got 22 points," Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe recalls. In a tough, seven-game series, New York then succumbed to a superior Boston team.

But Webster, for medical reasons, would never play another game. Robinson never played again because of a broken ankle. Cartwright had his first of four stress fracture operations. Then in March 1985, King blew out his knee while chasing down Kansas City's Reggie Theus.

"We never had our guys back," Brown recalls. "The '84 team was a helluva team."

After conflicts with management about playing Cartwright and a young Patrick Ewing in a "Twin Towers" strategy, Brown was let go 16 games into the 1986-87 season. New York finished 24-58.

From '86 through 2002, Brown had many offers in private, but didn't coach.

"I had the best job in TV, from CBS to 14 straight years at Turner," he explains. "To have that position and then do clinics all over the world and the lifestyle was perfect after all those years of coaching."

But then a reduced load at Turner Sports made a call from Memphis president Jerry West sound appealing.

Hubie Brown
Brown (center) taught the Grizzlies the importance of team basketball.
"They were the third-youngest team in the league, and the financial situation was outstanding," Brown says. "I would be working for Jerry West. I scored well on my physical the year before, so that's why I did it."

The Grizzlies didn't boast many power options on offense.

"After six games we threw out 75 percent of what we were running offensively in Kentucky, Atlanta and New York," Brown notes. "We started pressing and became a 3-point shooting team and were quicker in what we were running. We opened up the post area a lot for driving and kick-outs, so our style of play changed. We saw the improvement and won 28 games for a franchise record [the team had started in Vancouver in 1995]."

By the next season Memphis had acquired Bonzi Wells and Bo Outlaw, and Brown had his sought-after 10-man rotation for an up-tempo, pressing and trapping style.

Brown explains: "The players accepted the hard work and changed their attitudes and work performances and we had the chemistry. We were the seventh-leading scoring team in the league and also the top 3-point shooting team. We were also leading or second in three critical categories: forced turnovers, steals, blocked shots."

The team shot to 50 wins in 2003-04, and Brown won his second Coach of the Year award, 26 years after the first, which is an NBA record. The following season, with his health faltering and the team off to a slow start, he quit and was replaced by his protégé, Mike Fratello.

Looking back at his legacy, there are still detractors who say that he and others brought a hyper-defensive, "ugly ball" style to the NBA, a slow-down, call-every-play, clutch-and-grab game in which offense grinds to a halt.

"The object of the game is to win," is Brown's determined rejoinder, "and to take the best advantage of the talent base you are presented with. I want no pissing contest over a style of play. When you come in, you're taking over a bad situation or you wouldn't be there. The object is to turn it around as quick as possible and get them in the playoffs. I think we did that in Atlanta, New York and Memphis. Who's to say their way is the best way? That means I guess we shouldn't like the New England Patriots? Or the Pistons that won consecutive titles? I guess we shouldn't enjoy them?"

Now, after improving four different franchises, he enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

"Some of the greatest coaches ever were teachers," said Fratello, who began his NBA coaching career as Brown's assistant in Atlanta. "In teaching, you have to have a lesson plan. The court was his classroom. Organization, preparation, attention to detail -- all of those things that were vital parts of coaching I learned from him."

Fratello is just one of eight Brown assistants who have become head coaches in the NBA. The other seven members of the Brown "family" are Stan Albeck, Brendan Malone, Frank Layden, Rick Pitino, Richie Adubato, Ron Rothstein and Bob Hill.

Brown will be inducted by Hall of Fame coach Dr. Jack Ramsay, who led the Portland Trail Blazers to their only title in 1977. It's a fitting capper: One educator inducts another.

Kenneth Shouler is the editor and a writer for "Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia."

Ken Shouler is the editor and a writer for "Total Basketball: The Ultimate Basketball Encyclopedia." Shouler has also written three baseball books and served as a panelist for the "DHL Presents Major League Baseball Hometown Heroes" project.