Brown Has Memorable Day Back on the Bench at the Phog

Sept. 24, 2011

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Larry Brown has coached in more than 2,000 games in the NBA and collegiate ranks combined, but Saturday afternoon’s “Legends of the Phog” exhibition may rank right up there with the 17 NBA Finals and 22 NCAA tournament games he has been on the bench for.

“To see the way the fans responded to Paul (Pierce) and (Mario) Chalmers was pretty cool,” Brown said after his `Blue’ squad tied Ted Owens `White’ team 111-111. ” I am happy that Paul said we should continue to do this because KU is a place that you will never forget.”

Kansas has not forgotten Larry Brown either, as his legacy lives on before each home game at the Fieldhouse, as a recording of him is played at the start of pre-game introductions. Beyond the newspaper confetti and cheering fans, you can hear the former KU coach say, “There is no better place to coach, there is no better place to play, there is no better place to go to school.”

“Bill (Self) has made it great for all of us to continue to be a part of this program,” the 70-year old NBA and NCAA champion said. “When you play here, or coach here, it does not really get much better. I remember when I was (playing) at North Carolina, they all used to talk about the `Carolina family’, which Coach (Dean) Smith had so much to do with, but this family here at KU is remarkable.”

For Brown, his initial introduction into KU lore was not on the bench as a coach, but rather on the court as a player for the Tar Heels from 1959-63.

“I knew a lot about Kansas because of Coach Smith,” Brown said of his legendary collegiate coach, who played at Kansas from 1949-53. “When I was a sophomore at (North Carolina), we played in the Jayhawk Classic against Kansas. I had heard Coach Smith bragging about the interest and enthusiasm (of Jayhawk fans) and it was remarkable to see.”

Another legendary Jayhawk head coach on hand for Saturday’s game was Ted Owens, who from 1964-83 led Kansas to two Final Fours, six Big Eight Conference titles and a grand total of 348 wins. Owens was Brown’s predecessor at KU, and as Brown put it, paved the way for his success in the late 1980s.

“Ted left me with a pretty good group,” Brown said. “The values those kids had were because of their relationship with him.”

That relationship would extend to more recent players such as Paul Pierce, Mario Chalmers and the Morris Twins as the third-winningest coach in program history spoke to his fellow Jayhawk players before tip-off in the locker room.

“He told the players before the game about his 23 years here, 19 of which were as a head coach,” Brown said of his predecessor’s pre-game speech. “He had tears talking to everybody about his love for the school.”

Unlike Owens, who remains a fixture in Lawrence, Brown’s return to the Fieldhouse was a long time coming. The last time he coached a game at the Phog was back on March 5, 1988, when KU defeated Oklahoma State, 75-57, on Senior night. Since then he has seen coaching stops in seven NBA cities including New York, Los Angeles and in Charlotte for NBA legend Michael Jordan. All along, the Basketball Hall of Famer has kept the Crimson and Blue close to his heart.

“When I inherited the program, I had ideas about how special this place was,” Brown said of his 1983 hiring. “I heard about it listening to Coach Smith, but until you coach here and are involved, you don’t understand.”

Perhaps current KU head coach Bill Self put it best when he said, “No matter who is coaching here, they can never say that they are the best, because Dr. (Phog) Allen coached here and no matter who is playing here, they cannot be the best player because Wilt (Chamberlain) played here. So you are a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself, that is what makes it so special.”

Special enough that the “Legends of the Phog” game, thanks to two dramatic last-second three pointers by Paul Pierce and Mario Chalmers, ended in an almost Hollywood scripted 111-111 tie. It was a finish that Coach Brown was more than happy to take part in, and it was most certainly an ending that both Allen and Chamberlain would have been proud to see.