Brown Trying Again : Spur Coach Hopes He Can Produce Another Winner
The subject was Alvin Robertson, the San Antonio Spurs’ All-Star guard whose name has repeatedly surfaced in trade rumors this season.
But his coach, Larry Brown, knows how rumors take on a life of their own.
“There was a story a month ago that we might swap Robertson,” said Brown. “Nothing happened, but every time we visit another city, they renew the rumor. Everyone wants to dwell on the past.”
Particularly when it comes to Brown.
Sounding like a campaigning politician, Brown repeatedly says, “Judge me by my record, not by my moves.”
The record shows that Brown has won everywhere he has carried his clipboard, except his first stop at Davidson College, but that he has never stayed anywhere long enough to put down roots.
His itinerary has taken him from Davidson to the Carolina Cougars, Denver Rockets and Nuggets, UCLA, New Jersey Nets and University of Kansas. Said one quipster, “They all wanted a piece of the rock; instead, they got a rolling stone.”
Brown always found a reason for packing his bags -- ill health, insufficient money, excessive pressure, fan abuse, squabbles with players and management and, most of all, not being appreciated fully for his coaching talents.
This week, Brown made his first visit to the Meadowlands since quitting the Nets in 1983 with two years remaining on a four-year contract worth $200,000 a season.
When he left for Kansas, the Nets were 47-29. Bill Blair, now the Washington Bullets’ chief assistant, replaced Brown, but his players won only one of their remaining six games and were swept by the New York Knicks in the playoffs.
Brown, who left the National Collegiate Athletic Association champion Jayhawks (“I’ll stay as long as they want me”) to accept a guaranteed, five-year deal with the Spurs worth $3.5 million, said he has maintained close ties with his former Nets. Two of them, Albert King and reserve guard Darwin Cook, play for him in San Antonio.
“I’ve talked to Buck Williams a lot, and King and Cook. They all said they understood why I left,” Brown said.
Those who know Brown best say his ego needs constant massaging. His ego was not getting that kind of treatment in New Jersey, where he was summoned to a meeting by team owners after a 3-11 start.
“It was one of the most uncomfortable experiences I ever had,” Brown said. “When they hired me, they talked about a four-year plan to turn the team around. But they wanted to win immediately. When we started to win, they changed their attitude, but I could never forget that meeting.”
Brown, whose Spurs are 10-26, has had a similar meeting with his new boss, R.J. “Red” McCombs, who proposed making a blockbuster trade rather than awaiting the arrival next season of former All-American center David Robinson, after his Navy discharge.
“I’ll always talk to the owner about improving the team,” Brown said, “but we don’t want to give up one of our young players for a quick fix. We’ve got Robinson coming next season, plus we’ve got another No. 1 in 1989 and a high second-round pick.”
Brown watches game films of the rebuilding Bullets and sees them as almost a mirror image of his Spurs.
“With the loss of Johnny Dawkins (leg injury), I’ve been starting two rookies, in Willie Anderson and Vernon Maxwell, and a second-year man, in Greg Anderson,” Brown said.
“We’re playing a lot of kids, and we’re also a small team, just like Washington. I use three guards and two forwards. But we don’t have two proven scorers, like the Bullets do, in Bernard King and Jeff Malone.”
“I’ve really been pleased the way Willie Anderson and Greg Anderson have played,” Brown said. “And Maxwell has surprised us. We weren’t going to pressure him as a rookie, and he wasn’t projected as a point guard, but he’s stepped in and done a solid job filling in for Dawkins.
“Robertson is trying awfully hard to make us a winner. It’s been really frustrating for him. In his four years as a pro, he’s never been on a winner, and he thinks of the Spurs as being his team.”
But this is definitely Brown’s team, and he knows Spurs fans are expecting him to perform a near-miracle.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Brown told the San Antonio Express-News. “Mr. McCombs is paying me a lot of money, and I feel obligated to give him a successful team.
“I don’t want to fail. I’m afraid to fail. That’s why I won’t allow myself ever to get complacent. I don’t know how I’d handle losing, and I don’t want to know.”