First coaching matchup for Moe and Larry since 1992
DENVER -- Their hair is gray, their legs are shot and they work on opposite sides of the bench these days. Still, it's always a nice reunion when best buddies Larry Brown and Doug Moe are on the court together.
One of the sport's great one-two combos -- two North Carolina Tar Heels who played, coached and laughed a lot together in the old ABA -- were on opposite benches Friday night when the Nuggets beat the Knicks.
It was the first time the friends and one-time roommates had coached against each other since 1992, when Brown was with the Clippers and Moe was coaching the 76ers.
Moe is now an assistant for Denver and George Karl, another in the long Tar Heel coaching legacy. Brown, who coached the Nuggets with Moe as his assistant in the 1970s, now works for New York.
"I don't enjoy games like this," Brown said. "If you win, you're happy for your team, but you're not happy for what happened to the guy down there. You don't get a lot out of games like these, in my mind."
And Moe? He feels the same way.
"It's the exact opposite of extra-special," he said. "It's extra-excruciating."
Nevertheless, most of their memories together have been good.
At dinner Thursday night, they reminisced about their first ABA playing gig together, in 1967 with the New Orleans Buccaneers. Naysayers told them they'd never make a penny playing in the upstart league. Moe and Brown were both surprised when they went to the team offices and each received $5,000 checks.
"First thing we did is went outside to make sure they weren't written with disappearing ink," Moe said. "But the checks were good."
"I couldn't believe we were getting paid to play," Brown said.
The relationship continued through the rest of the life of the ABA and beyond.
Moe, a first-team all-ABA player in the league's first season whose career was marred by knee injuries, figured he'd never play again after an umpteenth knee operation. He was recovering in the hospital when Brown called and asked him to come be his assistant with the Carolina Cougars.
"I knew I didn't really want to work, so I figured, why not?" Moe said.
They went to the Nuggets together and made it to the ABA finals in the league's last year of existence. But in 1976, the first season after the merger, the San Antonio Spurs came calling. Moe took the job reluctantly, figuring working as an assistant might be a better ticket.
"I didn't care," he said. "I was very content to be Larry's assistant. One thing, I knew he was going to have a job forever, so I knew I'd have a job forever. It wasn't very taxing."
Moe, of course, made out very well on his own. He's the winningest head coach in Nuggets history and his "jersey" has been retired and hangs next to those of Dan Issel and Alex English at the Pepsi Center.
Last year, Karl wooed "the Big Stiff" back to the bench.
"I thought he was as good a coach as we had in our league," Brown said. "I'm proud of what he did and I'm glad George gave him the opportunity to come back."
Though time and many destinations separate Brown from the period when he worked with Moe and the Nuggets, the trips back to Denver -- his first NBA job -- still stand out. So, of course, does his relationship with Moe.
"It was a phenomenal franchise," he said. "It's nice to see it coming back. The crowd's a little different than the ones I remember, but I think they've done an amazing job. This franchise is pretty special."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press