PHILADELPHIA – Never too old to learn and take on a challenge, 76-year-old Bob Brown is currently fly-fishing in Montana, reaching out to his son by texting for the first time.
Like father like son, Brett Brown of South Portland is about to take on a far greater challenge. He’s the one entrusted with resurrecting the Philadelphia 76ers, the same franchise his dad used to take him to see play the Celtics at the Garden in the 70s. At 52, fresh off the heartbreak of seeing the NBA championship agonizingly slip by the San Antonio Spurs as one of Gregg Popovich’s assistants, he’s decided to leave the comfort level of that job for what many see as a hopeless task.
But if Brett’s learned anything from the time he starred for his dad in high school, through his stint playing for 26-year-old Rick Pitino at BU, his time coaching in Australia — including coaching the National team in the Olympics — and finally through his years in San Antonio, it’s not to make hasty decisions.
So after thoroughly analyzing the situation, hearing new Sixers GM Sam Hinkie’s sales pitch and getting a four-year guaranteed contract as a sign of their commitment, he’s ready and eager to take the plunge.
Knowing full well it may be awhile before he achieves any level of on-court success. “It is at times gonna be painful,” said Brown, who takes over a 34-48 team that promptly traded its best player, all-star point guard Jrue Holiday, for the rights to 7-0 injured Kentucky center Nerlens Noel and New Orleans No. 1 pick in next year’s highly anticipated draft. “It’s hard going through a normal rebuild process.
“But I think you have to stay focused on what you’re really there for and not pay that much attention to the results.
“Now it’s about people, the right people in the right places. It’s a bit scary at times. But I’m just thrilled to be here.”
And just as thrilled to fulfill one of his dad’s dreams.
“There was just a sense of pride in him that I was in position to be an NBA head coach,” said Brown, who credited his dad, Pitino, Popovich and Australian coaching legend Lindsay Gaze as his greatest influences.
“I’m thrilled to be able to give something back to him at this stage of his life.
“He’s learned how to text and is banging out some texts to me wondering about the day. I come from basketball coaches and schoolteachers from Maine.
“This is a big thing for my family.”
If anything, the years he’s spent away from the area have only made him appreciate his roots more.
“How lucky am I to be around the coaches I’ve been with?” said Brown, his thick New England accent piercing through. “My dad is in the New England Hall of Fame. Coach Pop is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Coach Pitino will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in September. And last year Lindsay Gaze, the Pete Carril of the South Pacific with his motion offense, was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
“That is my background. I’m the son of a coach. My roots are New England. My roots are my father and I’m privileged to have been around the game a long time.”
Now he’s bringing that sterling background to a franchise that has fallen upon hard times and will be trying to virtually start building from the ground up. Even Brett Brown, who knows he’s gotten a bit spoiled being with one of the NBA’s elite franchises for so long, says it’s a bit daunting.
“There were times I wasn’t sure based on what I had if I wanted to chance it,” said Brown, who inherits a team without a proven scorer, rebounder or defensive presence, meaning his club figures to be simply overmatched on most nights. “I’m not a gypsy coach. I like staying someplace.
“But I think this is a very high calculated chance. The risk-reward here tilts far on the upside. At this stage there are so many coaches that would want this opportunity. It’s dangerous, because a rebuild is always a hard thing.
“But can you imagine if we can get this right — with the culture here and the pride and the toughness this city has. That is very luring. It’s tempting.”
So the man who spent so many years down under — which many say makes him a fitting choice for a franchise expected to be in that same position in the standings — is following that temptation and taking the bait. With the backing of the owners and general manager, Brown doesn’t see a roadblock. He sees the potential of perhaps one day reaching the stars.
“First and foremost, everyone’s got a right to dream and I’m no different,” said Maine’s second NBA coach, following Charlotte’s hiring of Steve Clifford this offseason. “But it is such a long ways away in my eyes.
“There is so much work that has to be done and so much luck you need to even think about that. But it’s a great place to aspire to.”
From a few thousand miles away in Montana, Bob Brown is probably texting his son to remind him nothing is impossible. After all, way back then who would’ve believed Brett Brown would be an NBA head coach?
Yes, like father like son, the learning never stops.