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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Interview with Ted Green, Producer of "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story"

Ted Green's documentary "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" chronicles the story of one of the most underrated players in pro basketball history. Roger Brown set the ABA single game playoff scoring record (53 points, later matched by Hall of Famer Julius Erving), he outscored Hall of Famer Rick Barry 32-23 in the decisive sixth game of the 1972 ABA Finals and he won the 1970 ABA Playoff MVP after averaging 28.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg and 5.6 apg in the postseason as the Indiana Pacers won the first of their three championships in a four season stretch. Brown was a key member of all three of those championship teams even though he lost the prime years of his professional career after being wrongly banned by the NBA for his alleged association with the notorious game fixer Jack Molinas; the NBA later officially acknowledged that it had no evidence against Brown but Brown stayed in the ABA out of loyalty to a league and a team that gave him the opportunity to play professional basketball. Brown's loyalty has undoubtedly played a major role in keeping him out of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Like Brown, Connie Hawkins was wrongly banned by the NBA for his alleged association with Molinas but Hawkins jumped to the NBA in 1970 after a lawsuit forced the NBA to lift its ban. Hawkins had four All-Star seasons in the NBA during the same period that Brown won those ABA titles (Brown made the ABA All-Star team four times) and Hawkins was eventually inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. If ABA numbers are counted--and they certainly should be--then Brown and Hawkins have very similar statistics: Brown averaged 17.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 3.8 apg in 605 regular season games, while Hawkins averaged 18.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 4.1 apg in 616 regular season games. Both players lost several prime years because of the NBA's ban. Players who competed with or against Brown have long said that Brown deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. 

Green's previous film credits include "Naptown to Super City," "Hoosier Veterans: Faces of War" and "John Wooden: The Indiana Story". Here is a review of "Naptown to Super City": "Naptown to Super City"-- Required Viewing for Any City Using Sports for Economic Development.

This is the "More Voices" trailer from "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story":

Here is the transcript of my recent interview with Ted Green, edited for length and clarity:

Friedman: "Describe your background as a film producer and how you got into this field. What are some of the other movies and documentaries that you have produced?"

Ted Green: "It's interesting. This has been a real midlife change for me. I worked as a sports journalist for 20 years, starting with small newspapers. Then I went to the Cincinnati Enquirer. I was there for a while and then I went to the Miami Herald, where I became the deputy sports editor. Then my wife and I moved to Indianapolis. When we had our twin girls I took the first three years off--well, not off, but to watch the kids while my wife worked at the Indianapolis Star--and I wrote a novel, which is currently sitting in my underwear drawer and I am trying to find the nerve to rewrite it. I worked for the Star for six years in their sports department and what got me into filmmaking was when John Wooden--who is of course an Indiana icon--was approaching his 100th birthday. We felt like we had to do something special. A lot of people don't realize how many years he spent in Indiana. I started out to do just a quick little six minute video. As I did my research I realized that his Indiana story had never really been told before. People thought that his story started at UCLA. So, to make a short story long, that six minute video turned into a 35 minute video. I just walked it down the street to the local PBS affiliate because somebody said that they might be interested in it and, sure enough, they were. It has been on American public television, which is comprised of PBS affiliates, for the past three years. It airs in 80% of U.S. markets and it is called 'John Wooden: The Indiana Story.' It won an Emmy for research, an award from the Society of Professional Journalists and several other nice awards. That project turned me on to something that I really enjoy doing, the idea of telling stories in a more dynamic medium. After that I did another film, also involved with the Indianapolis Star, called 'Hoosier Veterans: Faces of War.' It had nothing to do with sports at all. It was about military veterans from all of the different wars, going back as far as Pearl Harbor and Normandy up through Korea, Vietnam and all the way to Afghanistan and Iraq. We looked at the commonalities and the differences in those war experiences. After that, my wife and I decided as our kids were getting older that I was so into filmmaking that I wanted to change careers and pursue this as a full-time gig. Fortunately, we were able to make that leap. The first piece that I did was just a small segment for WFYI, which is the PBS affiliate here in Indianapolis. It was for a movie called 'Indy in the 60s' and since I was a sports guy they gave me the story of the Indiana Pacers, which started in 1967. I got to talk to George McGinnis and I knew about Mel Daniels and certainly Slick Leonard but there was one guy whose jersey was up in the rafters at what was then, I believe, Conseco Fieldhouse, that I didn't know and that was Roger Brown. I hardly knew anything about him. When I talked to Mel Daniels and Slick Leonard they kept going on and on about this guy. I thought, 'How can this be that I don't know about Roger Brown?'

I decided to get to know his ex-wife, Jeannie. They were married for a while and then they split up and then they sort of stayed together on and off for a long time. In fact, Roger passed away in their house. She took care of him when he had cancer. It took a while to get her to trust me but then she told me Roger's story. She opened up his past to me and she had all of these old boxes of articles. She talked about his Pacers days and the gambling scandal and everything and I was just stupefied that this story had never been completely told before. As a storyteller--and I'm sure that you can appreciate this--when you find a great story that affects you so much and hasn't been told before you want to do it. Ever since that day I became obsessed with telling this story. In the meantime, I did another project called 'Naptown to Super City' which told the story of how Indianapolis very consciously remade itself around sports. It really all started with the Pacers, because the Pacers were a very successful ABA franchise. Then Mayor Lugar, who became a long-time Senator, decided to build a new stadium right downtown and that became Market Square Arena. That led to many other things and we ended up with a whole new city. That was the most recent documentary that I completed. It came out in February and has been well received but all the while I was working on that I was also working on the Roger Brown story. I spent a lot of time in Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time in Dayton, where Roger lived for six years. I talked to a lot of people in Indianapolis. After the Super Bowl documentary wrapped up, I have been working full time on Roger Brown and my hope is to have it finished this year."

Friedman: "When do you expect that the Roger Brown documentary will be released and will it be a television movie or a theatrical release?"

Green: "Those are questions that are dogging me every day. The movie is being produced by WFYI, Indianapolis' PBS affiliate which produced my earlier films, and will definitely air on that channel. We have spoken with Lloyd Wright, who is the president of WFYI and is close friends with the presidents of several PBS affiliates around the country. The New York PBS affiliate recently let us use their studios to do an interview with Bob Costas. A lot of people are helping out and a lot of PBS affiliates are very interested in airing this piece. Also, we are in talks with people about having it released a la 'Hoop Dreams' as an independent release in a few major theaters around the country. We are just really early in that process. We have been talking with some of the bigger cable networks. Everyone says that this has to be an ESPN piece. That is very easy to say but I talked with ESPN very early in the process and at that point they didn't really know who Roger Brown was--which is completely understandable; that is why I am doing the piece--and they certainly did not know who Ted Green was, so those talks did not go very far. Since then, the story had gotten so much better and I would put this cast up against the cast of any documentary, when you look at some of the names who are involved. Also, the timing is excellent now because--although nothing is certain--Roger Brown has a very good chance of being the next ABA guy selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame. When I interviewed Bob Costas he said that he thought that Roger would be the next guy in. There is no certainty and there are other very worthy candidates; certainly right here in town we have two worthy candidates in Slick Leonard and George McGinnis. I, like many other people, believe that they should already be in the Hall of Fame. So, if Roger does get in the Hall of Fame in February, a lot of people are going to want to know who Roger Brown was and this documentary explains who he was and why you haven't heard of him before. This is one of the great sports stories that hasn't been told. I am very determined to have this released by February but, that said, we are still fundraising for the finishing funds. I am very, very grateful to the Indiana Pacers and to Bankers Life Casualty (whose name is on Bankers Life Fieldhouse), who are co-title sponsors and have kicked in a very nice amount to get this project off of the ground--but we still fundraising to finish it right and make it as good as it can be to tell this story right and also to get it released by February when Roger will hopefully make it to the Hall of Fame."

Friedman: "What did you find out in the course of your research about Roger Brown that most surprised you?"

Green: "That's a good question. A lot of things surprised me but I guess the main thing is how the whole scandal went down, pre-Miranda rights, how the D.A.s could keep the 18 and 19 year old boys--or young men, however you want to look at it--essentially locked up without offering them phone calls or lawyers, not charge them and keep them for days on end as they grilled them again and again in their attempts to nail the gamblers. It's draconian and it's impossible to imagine something like that happening today, to find out that this is what ruined the careers--for a long time--of two of the great players (Connie Hawkins and Roger Brown) in basketball history, plus also the careers of other good players like Doug Moe and Tony Jackson who were also unfairly caught up in that. It just should not have gone down that way. That is one of the things that surprised me the most, the logistics of how this happened. The other thing that surprised me the most was just how good of a player he was. I mentioned earlier that the documentary has an incredible cast. I've been very fortunate to be in contact with Zelda Spoelstra in the NBA Alumni office--and I want to thank Herb Turetzky for putting me in contact with her. She's in love with the story, she's always been a fan of Roger Brown and she helped me arrange interviews with big name players. Julius Erving told me that when he came into pro basketball Roger Brown was the best player he'd ever seen, describing Brown as a hybrid between himself and Earl Monroe. I asked him if he was serious about that and he said absolutely. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's eyes lit up when he described being a 13 year old watching Roger Brown and Connie Hawkins in an All-Star game for the first time and thinking that he never thought human beings could do some of those things. I talked to Oscar Robertson about Roger Brown's Dayton years. Roger and the Dayton guys would play pickup games against Oscar and some Cincinnati guys. They called it the I-75 series. Cincinnati had just won back to back NCAA championships with Tom Thacker and others. Oscar, who graduated earlier, played in those games as well. They played these games in a high school gym with no fans, no writers. Oscar and Roger did not play the same position but Thacker said that sometimes in the course of a game Oscar and Roger would hook up one on one and it was a wash. Again and again I found myself challenging these guys, saying how could he be this good and yet people don't know about him. Yet again and again that is what I would hear. Those are some of the things that surprised me."

Friedman: "How much footage of Roger Brown were you able to acquire and put in the documentary?"

Green: "I have been very dogged and determined about that. I have come up with quite a bit of excellent ABA footage from collectors and from local affiliates. Jeannie Brown had in her basement an old reel of film. She didn't know what it was. We got it digitized and it was some excellent footage. I actually do have a lot of footage and that is one of the things that I am looking forward to and I am not showing my full hand on this right now with what you see in the previews. As you understand, ABA footage can be very difficult to come by. I have been very fortunate to get some nice footage to show people just how incredible of a player Roger was."

Friedman: "You have touched on this in general but I want ask you this specifically: Why is Roger Brown's story so important to you?"

Green: "It's become a cause for me and I think that is because for so many of the people I talked to it is a cause for them: his family, his friends, his former teammates like Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky and Darnell Hillman, his coach Slick Leonard and on and on and on--his proxy family in Dayton, an incredible woman named Arlena Smith and her husband Azariah; Roger lived with them for two years in their very modest house. When Roger was kicked out of the University of Dayton in 1961 (after being falsely accused in the Jack Molinas scandal), the first thing that he did was go back to Brooklyn. He didn't feel comfortable there, so he went back to Dayton. He had no money and he had nowhere to live, so that is when the Smiths took him in. Azariah Smith coached the AAU team at the local GM plant.

A lot of Roger's friends in Dayton are still around. These are people when I call and say that I am doing a film about Roger Brown the phone will be silent for 10 seconds and then they will say 'I've been waiting 25 years for this phone call.' That is the kind of loyalty that Roger inspired and that is the nature of this cause, as hokey as it might sound. This has long been a cause for these folks, to right the legacy of this man. Will I be able to do that with this piece? I don't know. That is certainly the challenge. Honestly, it's become a piece from the heart for me. It's certainly not about money, because I'm going to be losing, but we're making this from the heart. It's important to the Indianapolis community, it's important to the Dayton community, it's important to the Brooklyn community and I think that it's important to a lot of people in the basketball community. It's just a story that needs to be told. This is a guy whose legacy was wronged but he fought through it. He really managed to make a success out of himself and a lot of people want to see his story finally told. Roger Brown's story touched people. His teammates tear up when talking about him and I think that's a good thing. That is what makes this film really special. This is not a dry eye piece."

This photo is from the recent "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" fundraiser at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Pictured left to right are Darnell Hillman, Slick Leonard, George McGinnis, Tom Thacker, Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, Jeannie Brown (Roger's widow), Mel Daniels and Jerry Harkness.

Green is still actively raising funds for "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story" and you can make your tax deductible contribution to this 501c3 project by visiting the WFYI page. Be sure to specify that your WFYI donation should be earmarked for "Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story."

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:46 PM



At Saturday, January 19, 2013 4:19:00 PM, Anonymous Neil Grossman said...

I went to Wingate H.S in Brooklyn at the time Roger was there. His basketball exploits around NYC were legendary. He had the smoothest jump shot that I have ever seen. He seemed to go up and hang there while the defenders went up and came back down again, Roger was still up taking his shots.
In the 1960 semifinals of the PSAL City championship game held at the old Madison Square Garden, Roger outscored Connie Hawkins by almost 20 points.
He outplayed Billy Cunningham time and time again when Wingate played Erasmus HS.
He and Connie Hawkins were first team High school All Americans in 1960.

At Saturday, January 19, 2013 11:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for sharing your memories. Roger Brown was a special basketball player and a special person who has not received the accolades he deserves.

At Wednesday, February 06, 2013 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous Lenny Ginsberg said...

I am a graduate of Wingate HS .I was the tallest student at the school but never played basketball at the time . During assembly students sat in height order and I sat next to Roger for 2 years .I got to know him very well .
He was ,in my opinion ,better than Connie Hawkins and Billy Cunningham as stated by Neil Grossman .
I played 2 years of organized basketball later in life and met a lot of guys who played highschool basketball in Brooklyn .All were in awe of Roger .
If he played in the NBA he would have been among the best ever .


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