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Monday, September 09, 2013

The Basketball Hall of Fame Belatedly Welcomes Roger Brown

"It doesn't exonerate people for doing what they did to him. It shouldn't make anybody feel better that they denied him a special part of his life."--Basketball Hall of Famer Mel Daniels, commenting about the Hall of Fame enshrinement of his teammate Roger Brown

Better late than never--but more than three decades overdue--the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finally enshrined Roger Brown, who is one of the most underrated players in pro basketball history. Brown starred on the University of Dayton's freshman team in 1961 but he never played varsity college basketball nor did he ever play in the NBA; false accusations robbed him of his collegiate career and stole several of what should have been his prime professional seasons. For six years, Brown was relegated to playing on the AAU circuit and he was also denied his rightful opportunity to earn a spot on the 1964 U.S. Olympic team. In 1967 the Indiana Pacers of the newly-formed American Basketball Association (ABA) signed Brown, who helped the team win three championships in five ABA Finals appearances. The Pacers became known as the Boston Celtics of the ABA. As Julius Erving put it, "The Pacers were the class of the league and Roger was the class of the class."

Brown sued the NBA and received an out of court settlement that compensated him financially and also lifted the league's ban against him but Brown remained loyal to the Pacers instead of jumping to the more established league. Connie Hawkins, Brown's high school friend/rival who was also wrongfully blackballed by the NBA, had previously settled out of court with the NBA but he chose to sign with the Phoenix Suns--and the additional exposure that Hawkins gained from his time spent in the NBA is probably the major reason that he was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame 21 years before Brown.

Hall of Famers Mel Daniels and Reggie Miller served as Brown's presenters during Sunday's enshrinement ceremony and Brown's son Roger Brown Jr. gave a brief, recorded speech--but the entire tribute to Brown barely lasted six minutes. Brown's career should have received a longer and more detailed appreciation; an uninformed person watching the telecast--and, sad to say, most people who watched the telecast probably are uninformed about Roger Brown's career, if not basketball history in general--still would have no idea why Roger Brown is a significant figure in the sport's history. The Hall of Fame has an obligation not only to honor basketball's greatest players, coaches and contributors but also to educate the public about those people's accomplishments.

Roger Brown had an uncanny skill set, featuring tremendous fakes, deft ballhandling and the rare ability to score equally well both on drives to the hoop and on long jump shots. He made the game look easy and he elevated his performance level in clutch situations, thriving late in games and also in the postseason. Brown had some of his best moments during the 1970 playoffs, averaging 28.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 5.6 apg while winning Playoff MVP honors and leading the Pacers to their first championship. Brown scored 53, 39 and 45 points in the last three games of that year's ABA Finals.

This is what Hall of Famer George Gervin told me when I asked him what it was like to play against Brown:

"He probably had one of the best first steps in basketball," Gervin said. "You've really got to understand basketball to know what I'm saying when I say 'first step.' Matter of fact, I learned that from him when I played against Roger Brown. He used to pivot and make you move and he isn't going anywhere. It was probably one of the best moves that I picked up, and when I went to the guard spot it really helped to take my game to the next level."

"What guys don't realize today is that first step is everything because if I can get the first step on you then you will never catch me. And if you do catch me then all I have to do is fake and you will go for the fake because you are trying to catch up, you are in a recovery situation. That's where Roger was good. He forced you into a recovery situation all the time, so you had to go for his fakes."

Gervin contrasts Brown's use of the first step with the way that many current players set up their moves: "Dribbling that ball five, six, seven, eight seconds is a travesty. What are the other four guys doing, standing there watching? A lot of the guys pound the ball today, but we used to move the ball around and when we got it, we took that first step and made something happen. So we (retired legends) hope and pray that the guys understand that you really need to give the ball up. If you're not going to make your move, give it up, go back and get it. Don't just stand there and pound it."

I am thrilled beyond words that Brown has been granted formal basketball immortality by the Basketball Hall of Fame but I strongly feel that the Hall of Fame not only perpetrated an injustice by excluding Brown for so many decades but also by giving him such short shrift in the enshrinement ceremony. People who want to know the complete Roger Brown story should check out the articles listed below and also watch Ted Green's tremendous documentary "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story."

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More Information About Roger Brown:

Interview with Ted Green, Producer of "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" (October 30, 2012)

Roger Brown is Finally Elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame! (February 16, 2013)

The Neon Presents Special Screening of "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" on Thursday August 15 (August 13, 2013)

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:03 AM

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