It’s not known exactly what Mike Brown said during his interview with Los Angeles Lakers officials about their vacant head coaching position, but perhaps it went something like this: He demands a lot of himself and others around him, he likes being part of a team that’s driven to be successful and to do it the fundamentally right way.
Reports indicate it was Brown’s face-to-face meeting that ultimately convinced Lakers officials to hire him as the storied franchise’s 22nd head coach. Brown, who earned an undergraduate business degree from USD in 1993, reportedly signed a contract worth $18.25 million that guarantees him three years and an option for a fourth year. He was introduced to the media at a news conference on May 31.
The Lakers, who sought a replacement for 10-time NBA championship coach Phil Jackson, tabbed Brown, who one year ago was let go by the Cleveland Cavaliers despite a 272-138 record in five seasons (42-29 postseason record). He directed the Cavaliers, then led by NBA star LeBron James, to the 2007 NBA Finals, but fell to the San Antonio Spurs in four games. Brown was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year for the 2008-2009 season with a 66-16 record, and Cleveland won a league-high 61 games under Brown’s direction in 2009-2010.
Although they were unsuccessful in their quest to bring Cleveland an NBA title, James praised Brown for what he had done for him during the formative stages of his pro career.
“Mike Brown is a great coach,” James said in an Associated Press story reacting to Brown’s hiring with the Lakers. “He brought us success that we hadn’t had before in that city and it started with his defensive concepts. He brought in a defensive mindset that we didn’t have. Fifty-plus wins, he was coach of the year, he got us to the (NBA) final, won us Eastern Conference finals … because of him and his coaching staff. I respect him. He definitely helped me become who I am today.”
Brown, 41, spent the past year as an NBA television analyst for ESPN, but jumped right back into the fray when head coaching jobs with the Lakers, Golden State and Houston became available. The Lakers were eliminated from this year’s playoffs in the second round by Dallas, ending a string of three consecutive appearances in the NBA Finals, including title wins in 2009 and 2010.
“I want to say thank you to the Buss (family), to Dr. Buss, Jim (Buss) and also (Lakers GM) Mitch Kupchak for giving me this opportunity,” Brown said during a live ESPN television interview on May 25. “This is a special situation for me, and I’m extremely excited. No disrespect to Phil (Jackson) at all, I respect everything that he’s done, but I’m here to continue to try to help this organization carve a championship path that has already been laid.”
Now that he’s taken the reins of perhaps the NBA’s most famed franchise, will Brown solicit other Toreros to join him on the Laker bench?
Brown, who played for former USD basketball coach Hank Egan for two seasons, had the 2011 USD Athletics Hall of Fame member as one of his assistant coaches for his five years in Cleveland. Chris Grant ’94 (BA, ’96 MEd), who played three years at USD and was a teammate of Brown’s, is now the Cavaliers’ general manager. He was assistant GM during Brown’s run as head coach. Brown’s initial foot in the door to the NBA came courtesy of another famed Torero, Bernie Bickerstaff ’68 (BA), a USD standout basketball player and coach and longtime NBA coach and executive.
But now, Brown has opened an entire new chapter of his NBA career. Being head coach of the Lakers is an immense undertaking. While he’s built a reputation as a defensive-minded coach, the Lakers and their fans have very high expectations as evidenced by a winning tradition. Whether he likes it or not, Brown’s also coming into a situation that many of those who attend Lakers games — Hollywood celebrities — already understand: many more eyes will be watching his every move.
— Ryan T. Blystone
Photo of Mike Brown courtesy of The Associated Press