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Going From Fan to Fame

It’s about them. It’s always about them.

You fight the traffic, you pay for the ticket, you buy the popcorn, you climb to the seat, yet your experience as a sports fan in this town is never about you.

It’s about the players, the athletes, the entertainers.

That’s fine. It’s what nature intended.

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It is also what made 14,000 fans at the Superstore want to jump up and hug a stranger Saturday night.

For one glorious moment during the Clippers’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, it was about some guy named Herb Brown.

It was about us.

Midway through the third quarter, Brown was quietly sitting in his seat in Section 108, Row 12, Seat 1, when a Clipper official approached.

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You want to try to win a new car by making a half-court shot, he was asked?

Brown, 33, is a 5-foot-11, 205-pound automobile restorer and youth counselor from Pasadena.

He had not shot a basketball at anything in two years. He has never played on an official team of any sort.

He was looking at embarrassing himself in front of friends, neighbors and giggling cheerleaders.

Lots of people turn down this same Clipper offer for exactly that reason.

“Let’s do it,” Herb Brown said.

He was escorted down to the floor. He waited for the third quarter to end. Two of the Clipper Spirit cheerleading squad marched him onto the court.

He was told he could not even step on a midcourt line painted about 43 feet from a basket resting on a transparent backboard set against an end zone that stretches forever.

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“Good luck,” said a smiling Clipper official, handing him the ball. “No one ever makes it.”

Herb Brown did.

Standing the worst possible way to make a half-court shot, flat-footed, Brown lofted the ball in one of the oddest possible manners, two-handed.

“He didn’t look like Lamar Odom of the NBA,” said Clipper marketing boss Christian Howard. “He looked like Herb Brown of Pasadena.”

Yet he swished it.

Nothing but you-know-what.

The crowd erupted in arguably the loudest, most joyous roar heard at the Superstore since its October opening.

Fans bounced and shrieked and slapped hands as if the Clippers had just given away 14,000 new cars.

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Brown fell on his knees, in prayer, to the hardwood.

You see, there was a reason he accepted the Clipper challenge, and it had nothing to do with basketball.

Herb Brown has never owned a new car. Twice in the last four years, used cars were stolen from him.

He needs reliable transportation to get to his main job as a counselor at two Pasadena schools, and then to his parents’ house so he can help them with their kidney dialysis treatments.

The car he won is a Volkswagen bug.

To him, it will feel like a Cadillac.

“It’s like, it wasn’t me out there doing it, it was the Lord,” Brown said.

If nothing else, this story should provide needed proof that, indeed, it was Herb Brown.

“That’s good,” he said by telephone Monday. “Because a lot of people still don’t believe me.”

Brown was attending the game to watch longtime friend and Trail Blazer Stacey Augmon, who actually provided him with his ticket.

Augmon didn’t see the shot but saw the celebration, and still barely believed it.

“Herb Brown made a basket and won a car?” Augmon asked afterward with a laugh. “What was it, a used car?”

On Sunday, when word got around Brown’s street about the shot, friends drove up to him and rolled down their windows and accused him of making the whole thing up.

“I always wanted to do something for kids so I could be noticed in my neighborhood,” Brown said. “It’s amazing that it has happened by me shooting a ball.”

But even some of the children he counsels, not to mention some of his co-workers, didn’t believe.

During an exercise period at one of his schools Monday, the kids--8 to 18--asked Brown to recreate the shot on an outdoor court. He refused.

“I don’t think I could ever do it again,” Brown said.

Of course not. That’s why these shooting promotions are the greatest games in town.

The Clippers, UCLA and USC all offer some form of the contest during their basketball games. Somebody hits that half-court shot only once every couple of years. Nothing gets bigger cheers.

“For 15 years, Pauley has come to its feet over these things,” said Glenn Toth, a UCLA associate athletic director. “It’s all about cheering for the underdog.”

The Lakers have discontinued the promotion until they reach agreement with a new sponsor, but it was at the Forum in 1997 where the most famous midcourt shot occurred.

Tory Hazard, now 34 and a film company president, sank a shot worth $31,000, then proceeded to dance around the court like, well, a fan. He slid along the floor on his belly, missed a dunk, and ran into the Laker huddle for high fives.

“People love to watch these things to see somebody do something really good or really bad,” Hazard said Monday. “In my case, it was both.”

The money he won enabled him and his wife to buy a bigger house. And less than two years later, they had twins.

“I guess it really was meant to be,” he said.

For him then, and for Herb Brown now.

Brown will pick out his new car before Christmas. He wants something in emerald green. Everyone will believe it then, even if they forget it by the time he hits 10,000 miles.

Because even when it’s about us, it eventually gets back to being about them.

“That’s great,” said one fan shortly after Herb Brown’s feat. “But can the dude make a free throw?”

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Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: bill.plaschke@latimes.com.


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