Brett Brown grew up firing shots at a hoop hanging off the family garage. His native New England area boasted four full seasons, so when the snow had melted to outdoor ball temperatures, a lush lawn lay sprouted under his basket.
“You could shoot, but you couldn’t dribble,” says Brown. “I ended up doing a lot of dribbling drills in the garage or in the street.”
Making use of his surroundings worked well for Brown, as he developed his point guard game at home, on local outdoor pick-up courts, and in the high school gym, which his father had the keys to.
His whole playing career, Brown was exposed to top notch coaches. His high school coach – and father – Bob Brown is in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, then when Brown left to Boston University he played under a brand new head coach – Rick Pitino – who now boasts over 700 college wins at a 74 percent strike rate.
Brown flourished in Boston, taking his team to their first NCAA Tournament in 24 years as a senior. He still sits top ten in the Terriers record book for career assists and steals.Despite his success running the point guard spot, Brown traded in his hoop dream for the city after four years of uni. A business job called at telecommunications juggernaut AT&T in New York and he headed for the big smoke.
Just last week, the Philadelphia 76ers played the Houston Rockets in Houston. Another loss – Philly’s 27th in a row – would earn them the longest losing streak of any major professional sports team in America.
Philly’s young players threw wayward passes into the crowd, air-balled wide open threes, and found themselves down 16 early in the fourth quarter. But Brown still had his toes on the sideline – sometimes even on the court – shouting instructions at his players and gesturing where they needed to be.
With many losing teams you notice trends. Players put their heads down after mistakes. Guys go one-on-one and don’t pass to teammates after they missed the last one. No matter what had happened the possession before, the Sixers kept playing hard and making the extra pass. They fought back as a team.
Unfortunately, despite taking the lead midway through the fourth quarter, Philly’s inexperience showed down the stretch as they panicked on offence and failed to get good shots. James Harden didn’t help either, scorching the young Sixers with 50 points.
Philadelphia now holds the record.
After the game Harden was interviewed on court and told the reporter, “Forget their record, they’re a young team who play really, really hard.”
You always have to take sideline interviews with a squeeze of lemon, but for a team boasting six undrafted players, four players picked in the second round, and only six first round picks – three of which are yet to play a game this season – it shows other players take them for what they are. A team that loses games, but isn’t defeated. Of their 19 losses, 11 have come by less than 10 points. This includes seven and six point losses to Cleveland, a six point loss to Dallas, a five point loss to Miami, and an eight point loss to Memphis – all respected NBA teams.
Carl Landry, who is out the first half of the season, is the only Sixers player on the roster older than 24. Historically, he is a backup power forward.
Four days after the Houston loss, Philly found themselves in a similar position, holding a single-digit lead in the final minutes against the Lakers. It was Kobe Bryant’s last game in his hometown of Philadelphia and the thought was once again present that a clutch scorer would torch them for another night of mourning.
The Sixers stuck together, got stops, and made better decisions. They ended the streak.
After a few years working in the Big Apple, Brown pursued a hunch that there was more out there than wearing a suit and tie each day. He packed a bag, cashed out some financial investments and headed off island hopping through Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, and onto Australia. Soaking in sun seemed wonderful after years spent inside basketball gyms then skyscrapers. He ventured for a day at the Great Barrier Reef, and that is when Brett Brown’s life took a spin-cycle twist.
Maybe Brown was destined to be a basketball coach anyway, he had been surrounded by successful ones most of his life. But he definitely didn’t suspect it coming because of a girl from MacArthur in country Victoria. Brown wanted to move to Melbourne and pursue his romance. He cold called NBL coach, Lindsay Gaze, then met him at his office.
“We couldn’t pay anyone for our coaching positions, but we found a job for him in marketing,” recalls Gaze. “He did that with the same sort of zest and enthusiasm that he does for his coaching.”
Brown became an unpaid assistant coach for Gaze’s Melbourne Tigers, then took an off-season SEABL job coaching Bulleen.
“He was a quick learner,” says Gaze who had him on his sideline for six seasons.
Fast forward 22 years. Brown is now one of 30 gate keepers with the power to decide who makes it into basketball heaven. He zipped from Gaze’s unpaid assistant position to an NBL Coach of the Year and Championship with the North Melbourne Giants.Brown then used his marketing skills, coaching accolades, and contact – Andrew Gaze – to get a job in the office and assistant coaching gig with the San Antonio Spurs.
From there he returned to Australia and headed up the Sydney Kings for two years, then took on the Australian Boomers for the 2012 Olympics. This is where his impact was really felt amongst our country’s basketball both on and off the court.
One of Gaze’s prouder Brett Brown memories is when his once apprentice hosted a coaching clinic with the Boomers. It was the night before an Oceania Olympic qualifier against New Zealand, and either team’s coach met at a high school gym to run demonstrations of their systems using their players.
“I thought that was outstanding,” says Gaze, “on the basis that here they are in a life or death contest coming up to qualify for the Olympics Games and both coaches were explaining the way that they develop their teams, the methods that they use and teaching other coaches how to do it.”
Another of Brown’s initiatives was to organise a dinner for past and present Boomers to gather and exchange memories from their time on the court. Both are seemingly little gestures compared to winning NBL Championships, taking on the States at the Olympics, and landing himself a head coaching job with an NBA team, but these are the personality traits that makes players, coaches, and the community buy in.
“My Australian Olympic team that competed in the London Olympics Games,” Brown says then pauses. “They represented everything that you want out of sport, you know, they had tremendous mateship, they were extremely tough, they were in world class fitness levels, and I loved coaching them.”
Brown is the man primarily responsible for Patty Mills being in a Spurs jersey, making him partially responsible for the NBA Larry O’Brien trophy touring Australia for the first time last year. He gave Cairns Taipans guard, Scottie Wilbekin a shot on his 76ers roster after NBL success last season, and he’s been rooting for Dante Exum since he brought him into the 2012 Boomers camp at just 15. He also holds top odds for coaching Ben Simmons next season.
Brown understands the position he’s in. He doesn’t take the Ritz’s and Four Seasons hotels for granted.
“I’m very lucky to have one of thirty jobs in the world,” he says. “I’m the head coach of an NBA program.”
“I feel like my international background has given me a whole different perspective on life let alone basketball,” he adds. “I think that you recognise that it’s a big world with a lot of different views on how life should be lived and it can’t help but influence on how you share information with players and how you coach.”
He may be coaching a team set up for failure (or success depending on who you’re listening to) but this isn’t about his team. It’s about why he has a strong chance to succeed despite inevitable failure lurking like a full court press.
“I think coaching, in general, has the same challenges,” says Brown. “If you spoke to Trevor Gleeson or other NBL coaches they would share the same stories that I would share about preparing for games, not a lot of sleep, waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about something, their responsibilities to coach their team well, to deal with the discipline of your team, to coach your coaches. You know, I spend as much time coaching my coaches as I do my players. I think all those things remain a constant no matter what level you coach at.”
Brett Brown is our Matthew Dellavadova in the office – the guy we can relate to because he feels like one of us. He isn’t flashy, he is direct. He keeps you honest.
“He could walk amongst a group of players in country Victoria, a group of coaches in country Victoria, and none of them would believe that he would be an NBA coach,” says Gaze. “He would be able to relate to those at that level equally as well as he can relate to players at the highest level.”
We relate to Brown because he threw away his corporate business job in New York City to island hop through the Pacific. Not many people appreciate travel more than Aussies, but Brown takes each trip and experience on board to assist his next adventure.
Now in his third NBA season, Brown has gotten a feel for the lifestyle. He speaks to the media around 450 times a year.
“It is never ending,” he says of the press cyclone surrounding the NBA. “You have responsibilities to speak on behalf of a program and you take that responsibility very seriously.”
While lately many of those interviews have been about losing games and youths against superstars, Brown has also been promoting his recently appointed position of Ambassador for Big Bangs Ballers, a worldwide basketball charity founded by University of Canberra graduate and former ACT Young Australian of the Year, Pierre Johannessen.
The charity is now moving into America, setting up a chapter in Philadelphia so that Brown’s impact can truly be felt.
“Everybody has different things that make them feel good about their purpose, ways that you can help,” says Brown. “I’ve got a responsibility to do stuff, especially now that I’ve got the job that I have and I’m happy to help any place that I can.”
The last 30 years of Brown’s life have been anything but a penned up play on a clipboard – a beautiful by-product of travel and taking opportunities as they come.
“Not so long ago, I spent almost half my life in Australia,” says Brown. He’s on iPhone loud speaker from across the world, but the tone of his voice says he’s smiling.
“I married an Australian, and two of my three children were born in Australia,” he adds. “Whatever fondness Australia has for me, I have a fondness well and truly straight back to them because I just have so many memories from the country. I have a great respect for the way they see the world. They see the world through a different lens – it’s hard to explain to others.”
Talking to Brown and those who know him, it’s clear he hasn’t lost the sense of value in what surrounds him. The things that don’t come with 5-star hotels or photographer flashlights.
“I think the Australian culture and the way of life, it was just very endearing to me,” he adds. “I warm to it. I take to it. And I respect it.”