- Adrian Wojnarowski
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The world was without the 24-hour news cycles and instantaneous Internet reports, a time in April 1983 when no New Jersey Nets season ticket holder could've known that owner Joe Taub had met the team flight at the airport and informed the Kansas Jayhawks' new coach that he had some nerve to think he would be allowed to coach the Nets in the playoffs. So, Taub fired Larry Brown just six games before the playoffs.
"Where's Larry?" the Nets most famous fan, Frank Capece, remembered yelling courtside before the start of the next game.
There was assistant Bill Blair standing on the sideline coaching the Nets, the promise of a great playoff run soon to disintegrate into a first-round sweep.
Brown was gone, and so was the Nets' season, a routine that would repeat itself at Kansas after that national title four years later, again, and again, and again.
"We were a lot younger and a lot dumber in those days," Capece told me once. "This was before the megasalaries, before we believed that Micheal Ray Richardson could be doing the powder, before [TV] pushed us down the sidelines in our seats. When a coach like Larry Brown bailed on us, we took it personally."
"And through all these changes in the NBA, there has been one consistency and that consistency has been Larry Brown. He's got to fly, baby."
Detroit president Joe Dumars hasn't been blindsided by Brown's desire to leave for the Cleveland Cavaliers as much as his coach's denials have inspired a stormy playoff run. If you don't think Brown has been instrumental in the Cavaliers' coaching search, you must believe that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wanted to interview John Calipari because he's so impressed with those NIT banners Brown's boy has hung in Memphis. Or that well-regarded Milt Newton, his old Jayhawks star, would be hired as the general manager without any input from Brown?
As always, it isn't that Brown is leaving a job.
It's the way he's leaving.
After winning that NBA title a season ago, Brown had a chance to reshape his legacy for the history books. He had a chance to end his career with far more dignity and grace than he had conducted it. But Brown showed once again that he's the most selfish and disingenuous coach the profession has ever spawned. No pupil has ever come closer to Dean Smith's genius on the floor, and gone further from his character off it.
It wasn't losing out on a gold medal in Athens that sullied Brown, but selling out everyone in red, white and blue. Beginning with USA Basketball officials over the roster and continuing down to the U.S. players themselves, Brown arrived in Athens obsessed with blaming everyone for the failures of his Olympic fortunes before they had even played a game. This way, Brown had himself covered. If the U.S. team lost, it was inevitable. They were too immature, too thrown together, too fundamentally flawed. If they won, everyone would've said that the great Larry Brown had done it again.
NBA commissioner David Stern was irate, showing up at the Olympics to make sure he showered the players with praise and banging Brown for his deplorable dissertations. As always, Brown demands out of his teams what he never demands of himself: Loyalty, commitment and selflessness. It's hilarious to hear him talk about the piety of the coaching profession, as though he has the credibility of Dean Smith to address rights and wrongs in the business. He leaves behind hard feelings, like he does broken promises and commitments.
So when two of Brown's disciples, Calipari and Byron Scott, were fired in New Jersey, Brown ripped his old Jersey employer.
A lack of loyalty, of course.
Somehow, Brown could never see the irony.
Nets president Rod Thorn had nothing to do with Calipari, but it was his call to replace Scott with Lawrence Frank. Last year, I remember talking to Thorn high in the stands of the Auburn Hills Palace before a Nets-Pistons playoff game, just watching him do a slow burn over the shots Brown had delivered to him.
"He took a shot at me ... about loyalty," Thorn said. "For Larry Brown to ever say anything about loyalty. I mean, loyalty and Larry Brown don't go together. It's ludicrous."
"Of all people ... Of all people."
It isn't that Brown is disloyal because he wants to take the president's job with the Cavaliers. (By the way, Marc Stein is right about how unfit Brown is for a franchise's presidency. Brown is going to make Rick Pitino look patient and well-reasoned as a personnel director.) The trouble is, Brown still can't tell the truth, and that has turned this championship chase into a circus for the Pistons. Dumars is wise to refrain from the rash choice of pulling a Joe Taub and pulling the plug on Brown's coaching career in Detroit now. He's still the best chance the Pistons have to win a championship, and that's all that matters.
However the season ends, it promises to end with Brown running again, from his old team, from the truth, and from his responsibilities to behave like a Hall of Famer. As that old Nets fan, Frank Capece, told me, "You know what you're getting with him. It's kind of like we dated the town's flirt, and you knew she was going to be a tease, and eventually, she was going to leave you. You know what you're getting with Larry."
Yes, you do.
Best coach, biggest phony.
It's strange, but no one has ever so honored and dishonored the legacy of Dean Smith.
Adrian Wojnarowski is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPNWoj10@aol.com. His new book, "The Miracle Of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley And Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty," is available nationwide.
Once again, it's not that Larry Brown is leaving a job, it's how he's leaving, Adrian Wojnarowski writes.