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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 09:11

Dave Zirin: You're a Good Man Larry Brown

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by Dave Zirin

You're a good man, Larry Brown. You were born in Brooklyn damn near 66 years ago and in that time you've traveled more than LeBron in the playoffs. You played for the Akron Wingfoots of the old NABL. You toiled for ABA teams like the Oakland Oaks and New Orleans Bucs, in front of crowds that would fit comfortably in a Winnebago. The NBA didn't think 5'9" point guards were the way to go so you became the all-time ABA leader in assists. That's always been your way. If there is a brick wall with a door, you smash through the brick wall. That's how underdogs from Brooklyn get out: because they know the door is usually locked.

Your restless spirit has defined you as a coach. There is always another brick wall to challenge, even when people opened the door and rolled out a red carpet. You are like Red Auerbach with Lyme Disease, allergic to your own skin, twitching toward the fantasy of greener pastures, forever searching for another bridge to burn. You coached everywhere from tiny Davidson College, to the ABA, to the Big Show. You won the NCAA championship with Kansas and then you won it all in Detroit. You had accomplished everything but the one thing. You needed to go back to New York. You needed to stand triumphant in the city where you grew up watching your hero, Jackie Robinson dance off first base, his fingers tickling the dust. Jackie taught you that pride and stubborn will were unimpeachable virtues.  Jackie taught you that brick walls were made to be smashed. This was the one place to end your career. It would be with the team of your youth, and your passion; the crown jewel of the league that wouldn't have you as a player: the New York Knickerbockers.

Of course there were nay-sayers who now pass as prophets. All hail the Apostles Jim Rome, Chris Russo, and an all-Star lineup of sports radio poodles as they yip in glorious concert: why leave a perennial title contender like Detroit? Why tempt the fates? Why challenge the wisdom of Thomas Wolfe, who consecrated as holy writ that going home was not an option? Why subject yourself to a squad with a series of overpriced disparate parts that didn't resemble a team so much as a reality show? These aren't invalid questions. The Knicks, thanks to old GM Dave Checketts, and new GM Isiah Thomas, were an episode of the Surreal Life. You might as well have gotten Gary Coleman to play the pivot.

Maybe it was all the doubts, all the logic, all the blaring, blood-red neon reasons to not do it that made the challenge so irresistible. If Jackie could make the impossible, possible, then surely you could turn around the dysfunctional Knicks.

Now, after an eye-blink of a season, you are done in New York. If the team was a reality show before you arrived, it became a snuff film over the course of the last year. You had to integrate Steve Francis with Stephon Marbury, two sour shoot-first point guards who look like they are being forced to eat lima beans with a shot of castor oil when called into a game. You had to organize a team around people who didn't want to hear you speak and the brick wall finally knocked you down: 23 wins. Forty-two different starting lineups. And a team that stopped caring in December.

"I'm disappointed," you said. "I love this franchise, but I didn't do what I was paid to do. I didn't do the job. I wish them well and I move on."

Now the vultures are out and gaseous writers are questioning your Hall of Fame legacy. You are being vilified like a straight gangster, who just held up New York like a Brinks truck. As Steve Kerr said, "The only winner in this mess is Larry Brown's accountant." No doubt your accountant is having a good week. You will have a settlement of 40 million dollars to keep you warm and don't forget the Detroit Pistons still owe you upwards of seven million dollars as well.

But you know that this was not about the money. This was about New York City and its seductive siren song. This was about being the kid from Brooklyn who conquered Manhattan. This was about believing in a dark corner of your heart, that being a spectacular failure in New York is sweeter than hoisting a championship anywhere else. It's sick, it's twisted, it's warped, it's wrong. It violates every principle you've honed from Kansas to Detroit, but New York answers to a higher law. As Jean Baudrillard wrote of the city, "There is no human reason to be here, except for the sheer ecstasy of being crowded together."

Your ecstasy is now your agony. But you're a good man Larry Brown. You deserve better than this team and you can live without this unforgiving place. In 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers announced they were trading Jackie Robinson to the hated New York Giants. He retired instead. Even Jackie knew when to walk away. Even Jackie knew when to leave the brick walls alone.


Dave Zirin is the author of What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States (Haymarket Books.) You can receive his column every week by e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[BuzzFlash Note: Some Larry Brown background from Wikipedia: "On June 22, 2006 the New York Knicks fired Larry Brown replacing him with President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Isiah Thomas. They do not plan on paying him the 40 million dollars left in his contract, as they argue that he 'violated terms of his contract through various acts of insubordination.'"]