Larry Brown finally gets the Answer

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER SMU coach Larry Brown directs his team against Temple.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER SMU coach Larry Brown directs his team against Temple.
Posted: February 18, 2014

THE LARRY Brown Salvation Tour stopped in Philadelphia yesterday.

There, Brown's newest mission, Southern Methodist University, was upset by a woeful Temple team.

Brown, flanked by trusted disciples, was received in the respectful fashion appropriate to a Hall of Fame coach; he was, as ever, eloquent and comfortable as the center of attention.

And, of course, after the game he issued his Sermon of the Day. The topic:

The Answer.

Brown finished his postgame news conference with an unsolicited endorsement of Allen Iverson's number retirement by the Sixers. Brown said he was "sick" that SMU commitments would keep him from attending the ceremony March 1. Brown then restated his conviction that he "was put on this Earth to coach Allen Iverson."

That, of course, diminishes his coaching of NCAA champion Danny Manning and NBA champion Rip Hamilton, but neither Manning, nor Hamilton, drew to Brown the sort of attention Iverson drew.

More than a decade removed from their acrimonious, 6-year coexistence, Brown, 73, clearly seeks to rewrite their well-documented clashes. Iverson's brand of basketball and his outlook on life ran cross-grained to Brown's buttoned-down propriety. Brown insists that he now understands the sociological impact of Iverson - braided, tattooed, non-conformist, but always desperately competitive (if obviously unprepared).

"The more I'm away from it, and the more I meet young people - and people stop me everywhere - I realize the impact he had on our game," Brown said. "Nobody deserves it any more than he does. In this community, I think he was accepted the right way. And that makes me feel great."

The moment, like everything Brown orchestrates in a gym, was planned; the delivery, canned.

It was, deliciously, vintage Larry Brown; succulently massaged, tinged with just a hint of remorse, flavored with the sort of artificial sincerity that leaves an aftertaste.

He is, after all, a coach; and coaches are, after all, master manipulators.

They do, of course, have their followings, and deservedly so. Brown coached basketball the right way, and is respected in kind.

He was was received by some of the Philly-centric personalities he touched as Sixers coach: guard Aaron McKie; front-office heads Tony DiLeo and Courtney Witte. Malik Rose showed up, too. He is a Philadelphia and Drexel product who played for Brown with the Knicks in 2005-06, the most bizarre and least successful of Brown's nomadic career.

"That means everything," Brown said, smiling, his left hand unconsciously stroking the "LB" monogram on his oxford shirt. This testimony felt much more real: "Relationships I have as a coach - that's everything. That's why I'm back doing it. I'm pretty lucky, at my age."

He's right.

He's brilliant, but he's lucky; lucky that some of his former players appreciate what he preaches.

Regardless of how or when things end at SMU, Brown's legacy will be as much about his "relationships" as his successes, and not the Aaron McKie-type relationships. He is the only coach to win NBA and NCAA titles, and he did so with vastly different types of teams - Kansas in 1988 had Manning et al, while Detroit had a bunch of relative et als - but Brown generally leaves quickly, and, in his wake, he leaves highly publicized feuds.

Brown battled with Stephon Marbury in New York; with Stephen Jackson (and, at the end, with owner Michael Jordan) in Charlotte; and with Manning, when both were with the Clippers.

None of them compared with what went down in Philadelphia. Iverson considered team defense a casual inconvenience between scoring dashes; considered conditioning to be redundant; considered the concept of practice flawed in its core.

Brown considered them all sacrosanct.

No one wanted to sully yesterday's occasion with the mention of a topic as unsavory as Iverson/Brown.

No one, except Brown . . . who is being brilliant in Texas again. He rolled into Temple with the No. 23-ranked team in the country, the first time SMU (20-6) has been ranked since 1985 - which is before Eric Dickerson's Pony Express football teams ruined the school's name with death-penalty NCAA violations.

Brown is the biggest name to hit the Dallas campus since Dickerson left.

In April he signed a blue-chip recruit, 6-5 freshman guard Keith Frazier, who played yesterday. He has signed another, Dallas guard Emmanuel Mudiay, the highest-rated player in the program's history. SMU has beaten three ranked teams, including then-No. 7 Cincinnati, the first time it beat a Top-10 team since 1988. You know, when Mark Macon played for Temple.

SMU went 15-17 last season, so the winning took some time. But the culture changed as soon as Brown was hired to replace Matt Doherty in April of 2012.

"It took just 2 months," said senior Nick Russell. "The atmosphere around the city. You see us on billboards. You see us on posters. The hype is big in Dallas, and it's all because of coach Brown. We were basically nobody before he came in."

Just to make sure the program stayed On Message, Brown hired coaching neophytes George Lynch and Eric Snow, his two most loyal players from the 2000-01 Sixers team that went to the NBA Finals. They now are loyal lieutenants, Lynch as strength and conditioning coach and Snow as director of player development. They have their foot in the door of the coaching fraternity, but at SMU they act as interpreters and buffers between Brown and a group of players young enough to be his great-grandchildren.

"If coach Brown gets on somebody, you can turn to one of those guys and ask him, 'How do I handle this?' " said Russell. "They give us somebody to turn to . . . And we turn to both of those guys a lot, mentally. They play a huge role."

The players realize, too, that what they say might get back to the boss.

"I actually spend a lot more time with the players because I'm working them out over the summers," Lynch said. "Eric and I - they look to us because we've been there and done that."

Lynch does not prescribe workouts for Brown, but he notes that Brown is an avid morning walker who pays close attention to his diet. That fitness was tested yesterday.

SMU was outrebounded even though Temple's leading rebounder, Anthony Lee, missed the game with a knee injury. The Mustangs missed seven straight free throws late in the second half. They were beaten by a team that had seven healthy players; Brown had more guys in ties, holding clipboards.

Brown sprang from his chair to harangue officials, to plead with players, to make substitutions with animated disgust. Afterward, as he changed into traveling clothes, Brown groused about wasted possessions to associate head coach Tim Jankovich, the $800,000-a-year assistant who will succeed Brown in case Brown happens to decamp, or worse.

Not that anything worse is in sight.

Larry Brown might be 73, but he hates to lose with the fervor of a much younger man.

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