He's among the hottest coaches in the NBA, having led his team to the finals in June. He's definitely the most famous Mike Brown in basketball.
But one thing the Cleveland Cavaliers coach isn't: the original Mike "The Brown Bear" Brown.
How do you compete with a guy who owns an electric sign with his name on it?
The NBA's original Mike Brown is back in town this week for the Rocky Mountain Revue. Still big. Still bearish. He played five seasons for the Jazz in the late '80s and early '90s, averaging five points and 4.4 rebounds for his career. But in Utah, under Jerry Sloan's rigid system, he averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Now he's working as an assistant coach for the Seattle Sonics, who hired him to help coach the team's summer league entries. Brown isn't sure whether he'll be retained for the regular season. If not, perhaps he can approach the Cleveland Mike Brown and ask for a job.
"He says he gets a ton of my basketball cards in the mail, wanting him to sign them," says the Brown Bear. "I just tell him if he'll hire me, I'll make sure they get to the right guy."
Though not the Jazz's most famous player, Brown made his mark.
Acquired in a 1988 trade that sent Kelly Tripucka to Charlotte, he pounded away on the inside, spelling Mark Eaton when the starting center was in foul trouble. That's what happened in 1991 Brown's shining moment. A contract season, he averaged 9.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the playoffs.
Aside from his burly shoulders and ever-present smile, Brown distinguished himself with a rather unique characteristic: He bounced the ball like he was pounding railroad spikes. The floor shook, drinks spilled, streetlights swayed.
"I did that for two reasons," said Brown. "First, I didn't want anyone to steal the ball. And besides that, I wanted to make sure the ball got back up to me."
Heaven help the poor guy whose hand got in the way.
He opened a restaurant in Sugar House called "Brown Bear's Burgers and Dogs," which he ended up selling after he was traded to Minnesota. His marketing hook: The burgers came with the fries piled on top.
Though the restaurant didn't last, it did have a certain marketability, including a sign with a bear wearing a basketball uniform.
He still has the sign, which he keeps at home in Las Vegas.
"It still lights up," says Brown.
Doesn't everyone in Vegas have their own sign?
After a playing career that included stops in Italy, Chicago, Utah, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Phoenix, he and his family moved to Nevada, where his wife Eshter founded The Embracing Project, a program to help youths who have been incarcerated. Among other charitable activities, the Browns try to connect American gang members with youth from Africa that are child-soldiers.
Brown's point is that American gang kids and war-torn children have more in common than they think. Both believe that they are the underclass, that they need guns to survive, and that they have no other options. And both are dying at an alarming rate.
Brown says when underprivileged kids from far-flung places are put together in a positive environment, something strange occurs. There's not more gang activity, but less.
The Browns are planning to take some American kids to Senegal next year. They are also encouraging the youths to become pen pals.
Seems life is better when there's someone to talk to.
Meanwhile, helping young people spurred Brown's interest in coaching. Though he never thought he would become a coach, after retirement he approached Reggie Theus, now coach of the Sacramento Kings. At that time Theus was heading the Las Vegas Slam of the ABA and Brown asked if he could help out.
He has since coached in the NBA's developmental league in Fayetteville and Roanoke.
Now, Brown says, he'd like to remain in coaching, perhaps in a player development/coaching role.
Does he plan to employ Sloan's vocal, grating coaching style?
"I took a little from all my coaches," says Brown. "Jerry is a good coach. Execution is the way he coaches, and often it's not talent, it's execution."
But no, he says, he's not going to become Jerry II.
"I'm not a military approach guy," says Brown.The way he sees it, there's no need to be a bear about it.
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