Lewis Brown, a 6-foot-11 center who was a two-time high school basketball player of the year at Los Angeles Verbum Dei in the 1970s and spent the last 10 years living on the streets of Hollywood, died Wednesday after having a heart attack, according to his sister, Anita Brown Campbell. He was 56.
In 1972 and '73, Brown was named the Southern Section 4-A player of the year, the first time since the award began in 1938 that a player had been honored in consecutive years in the highest division.
"He was part of Verbum Dei lore," said DeAnthony Langston, a former Verbum Dei basketball player. "He was walking around the neighborhood, being like Wilt Chamberlain."
Brown led Verbum Dei to three 4-A championships and an overall record of 88-4.
"He was a dominating factor in high school basketball," said former Crescenta Valley coach Ed Goorjian, whose team lost to Brown and Verbum Dei in the 1971 4-A final.
Brown signed with Nevada Las Vegas and played for Coach Jerry Tarkanian on teams that went 102-16. In 1977, UNLV reached college basketball's Final Four.
He played professional basketball in France and the Philippines and was signed to a 10-day NBA contract by the Washington Bullets in 1981. He later had substance abuse problems, according to his sister.
Tony Chauncey, friend of Brown, said Brown had been saving money and had intended to reunite with his family.
Born Feb. 19, 1955, in Los Angeles, Brown is survived by sisters Anita and Jeri, mother, Bette, and father, Lewis.
A funeral will be held at noon Thursday at St. Albert the Great Church, 804 E. Compton Blvd., Compton.