PHILADELPHIA — After starting out on the same road, then taking divergent paths along the way, Steve Clifford and Brett Brown have arrived at the same destination.

They’re NBA head coaches, a unique breed of 30 men to be sure. Clifford, in his first season as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, and Brown, a rookie head coach with the Philadelphia 76ers, have a common bond, though. So many of their roots come from what Brown proudly calls, “The beautiful state … though not a basketball state as we know at this level … of Maine.’’

So how have these Maine men beaten the odds? It’s largely due to one significant mutual connection – Bob Brown, the legendary coach who is Brett’s father and who was Clifford’s boss for a half decade.

“I think first of all, he had such a definitive philosophy about every aspect of coaching. Then he had a contagious enthusiasm for leadership, for teaching, for developing relationships with his players and staff,’’ Clifford said of Bob Brown before the 76ers beat the Bobcats 95-92 on Wednesday night on a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.”

“He’s a master coach. He studies it. He lives it. I still call him today when I have questions.’’

But to hear it from Clifford’s former and current players, his most recognized assistant and his colleagues, there are few answers the Lincoln native doesn’t have. Or Brett Brown, for that matter.


“I think (Clifford) really understands the NBA game,’’ said Charlotte’s Josh McRoberts, an eight-year NBA veteran who’s played for five teams and a number of coaches, among them Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. “He’s a good communicator who’s been in all kinds of situations and (has) been able to learn.

“This opportunity is long overdue.’’

Especially from the viewpoint of a player who’s seen both Maine men at work. “When I was in Orlando he (Clifford) was second in command,’’ said Philadelphia guard Jason Richardson, a 13-year veteran who’s been out all season because of a knee injury after spending two seasons with the Magic. “A player’s coach who’s very knowledgeable about the game. He’s very defensive minded, always challenging guys to do their best, but never in their face so they don’t want to work hard for him.

“He and Coach Brown are similar in style and strategy. I’m glad to see a guy like that get an opportunity to be a head coach in the league.’’

So is Clifford’s right-hand man, better known as a Hall of Fame center from Georgetown.

“He knows the game,’’ said Patrick Ewing, who’s been on the same staff as Clifford in Houston, Orlando and now Charlotte over a 10-year span. “He’s worked at a lot of different angles, scouted and been an assistant. The only difference now is he’s the head man. But he’s the same person. He saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and was able to get a job and I’m happy for him. Happy to be a part of his staff.’’


Charlotte was 17-24 going into Saturday’s game against Miami, while the 76ers were 13-26 before Saturday’s game against Chicago.

Brown, who played for his father at South Portland High, is thrilled to see Clifford rewarded.

“I’ve known Steve for a long time,’’ said Brett, who also has a young team that’s struggling well below the .500 mark, though it figures to have a brighter future. “He was my dad’s assistant and I’m proud of him. Proud of the fact he’s an NBA head coach. I think he does a heck of a job. Being on the court with him, considering where we come from… I’m proud of all that.’’

While Brett learned the NBA game under Gregg Popovich’s large shadow in San Antonio and Clifford studied under Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, and Mike D’Antoni, climbing the ladder wasn’t necessarily the long-range goal.

“I know for me it’s not like my dream was to be an NBA head coach,’’ admitted Clifford, who interviewed for jobs in Portland and Milwaukee before Michael Jordan’s team said yes. “I enjoyed coaching and really enjoyed the NBA.

“As you feel more comfortable with the league, then it becomes something you’d like to do. But I have to say I’ve enjoyed all the jobs I had as an assistant and was more than content.’’


Plus, it’s given him the opportunity to establish a closer relationship with Brett Brown, whom he’s known since joining Bob Brown’s staff at St. Anselm College, a Division II school in Manchester. N.H., and later at Boston University before striking out on his own.

“We’ve known each other 26, 27 years,’’ he said of Brett, whose own path took him through Australia for over a decade, before he surfaced in San Antonio with the Spurs. “We both played for our fathers, who were terrific coaches. The other part of it is the quality of high school coaching in Maine was then exceptional. So we had that as common denominators.’’

And now they’re both in charge, trying to instill confidence in young teams who haven’t yet learned what it takes to win. Win or lose, though, they know the grind goes on.

“They work hard and really invest time,’’ Brett Brown said of his players after Wednesday’s win over his fellow Mainer, who played his college ball at UMaine-Farmington while Brett played for Rick Pitino at BU. “If we had lost tonight, I know when we came in tomorrow their spirits would be down, but we’d get after it again.”

The day-after wakeup call wouldn’t be as kind for Clifford, but after dealing with a health scare early in the season he’s adjusting to the demands of the job. In November he had two stents placed in his heart after having significant chest pain and going to the emergency room.

“It was scary, but it was also probably the best thing to ever happen to me,’’ said Clifford who suffered no permanent heart damage and has modified his regimen since. “My awareness is different and I’m taking better care of myself. I’m trying to sleep more regularly and eat better.

“I’m enjoying the job, obviously, but it’s a lot more responsibility. As an assistant, one thing I liked was I could really structure my day early in the morning. What I’ve found this year, no matter what I plan in the morning things just seem to pop up. There are a lot more people tugging at me. But there’s so many great things about the NBA, you have to accept the tougher things that come with it, too.’’

So he pushes on. But for all the hassles Clifford and Brown must deal with, they really can’t complain, since this is the ultimate challenge.

Besides, having paid their dues for so many years as assistants, isn’t it time for Clifford and Brown to finally cash in?

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