Larry Brown has been coaching for the last 50 years. Think about that.
In 1965, he was a graduate assistant at North Carolina. In 2015, he’s the head coach at SMU. He had a dozen stops in between, including college stints at UCLA and Kansas and professional stops with the Spurs, Pacers, 76ers and Knicks, among others.
At 74, though, Brown has to get something off his chest: He’s never really loved talking to the media. He understands the importance of it, but he’s never really enjoyed it.
“I enjoy the coaching part,” Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I enjoy being around the kids. Coach (Dean) Smith, I think, got out of it . . . because his job became more than just being in the gym with the players and being able to spend time with his staff. I know it’s part of the job, and you guys create interest in our sport. We all got to appreciate that. But I love 3 to 6 (in the afternoon) every day. I’m not crazy about games. I like being in the gym and trying to help kids get better.”
Brown said that kids haven’t changed over the years as much as parents have. Parents have increasingly unrealistic expectations for their sons; kids just want to improve.
“Kids want to learn and want to get better,” Brown said. “When they come to the gym and they know you and your staff are trying to help them improve, they’re all-in. I found that in the NBA as well. I didn’t find many guys that I coached in the NBA that didn’t accept coaching. As long as they know that you care about them and want to teach them and want them to get better, they give you so much back.
“I still got a lot more in the tank,” Brown continued. “Especially what’s happened in the last few weeks with coaches passing, I want to make sure I give back all the stuff (Smith) taught me and allow young people to realize how special he was. The things that he believed in (for) our game – (we) need everybody to understand that’s the right way to play. I’m inspired by the people I got to coach, I’m inspired by the people I got to coach with, and every day I want to improve and get better and give my players a chance to play at the highest level.
“I got so much knowledge that was passed on to me that I want to give to other people, especially the coaches that have coached with me. That’s the thing I’m most proud of. A lot of people have a tree; I got a forest.”
Brown, the only coach to ever win a national championship (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA title (Detroit, 2004), was asked to reflect on his one season with the Knicks. In 2005-06, Brown coached New York to a 23-59 record and was fired one year into a five-year contract.
“I wanted to be the Knick coach and do a great job,” said Brown, a Brooklyn native. “I thought our league needed that. I thought the Knicks needed to be relevant in the NBA to help that league. I knew I shouldn’t have taken the job when I took it. I was the only one of my family that felt that way. But it’s an experience I don’t look back on it and feel terrible about it. I feel bad that I didn’t accomplish a lot, but I didn’t have a lot of time to do that. And (I realized) I had no chance to do a good job there. When you’re not connected to the president and the GM and you’re not on the same page, you don’t have any chance.”
Brown reportedly feuded with Stephon Marbury a lot that season, but Brown said that wasn’t quite accurate.
“Let me explain something to you,” he said. “Marbury was not our problem. That’s not fair. Isiah (Thomas) and Marbury were a problem because Marbury and Isiah were connected at the hip, and there was no chance for Stephon to be able to play for me. But he was a good kid and had really no chance (of) being successful the way the dynamics worked out. A coach needs to be able to coach a team and needs the president, the owner, the GM – everybody – to be on the same page. Jim Dolan gave me every chance to be successful, but we didn’t have any unity in the way that program was run. And as a result, it struggled.
“If you look at the great NBA franchises,” Brown continued, “everybody that’s successful, they’re all connected at the hip. So I feel bad that I wasn’t able to help that franchise move forward. I’m hopeful that it will now that Phil’s running everything. That’s a chapter in my life that I don’t look back on anymore because I know I didn’t have a chance to be successful.”
Brown does, however, have a chance to be successful at SMU last season – that is, of course, if the Mustangs make the NCAA Tournament. Last year, they missed out following a late-season slide despite being ranked 18th in the country. This year, SMU (23-6, 14-3) is ranked 22nd and has won 13 of its last 15 games.
“We deserved to go (last year),” Brown said. “I didn’t say anything last year because it wouldn’t have been fair to the other teams. But we were 4-6 against top-20 teams. Louisville . . . got a 4-seed (last year). Can you believe that? Once they got a 4-seed, I knew we were in trouble and there was no respect for our conference. But Connecticut won the NCAA title, and we beat them twice, so that should help our resume.”
SMU closes the regular season at home this Saturday against Tulsa (21-7, 14-2), which has a half-game lead over SMU in the American standings. Tip-off is at 3 p.m. ET.
“I don’t know what the criteria is to get in the tournament,” Brown said. “I’m not worried about that. I’m worried about playing a great Tulsa team.”