Hubie Brown: "Dr. J could turn your building against you"
Which coach and which broadcaster most influenced your broadcasting style?
Hubie Brown: Believe it or not, I never tried to imitate or be influenced by anyone. Television came around for me in the 1981-82 season. USA Network gave me an opportunity. Jim Zrake was in charge of sports. They did the Thursday night doubleheaders. I had never done television. I was teamed up with Al Albert on the 7 o’clock game and Eddie Doucette and Steve Jones did the second game that year – usually a West Coast game. A lot of people don’t remember that because if they are just young to the NBA they think it was (always) Turner but back then USA did the Thursday night games. I just did it with my own style right from the beginning. I tried to do the telecast as a clinic teaching type situation, using a lot of statistics that I thought that coaches found to be very important during the course of the games and that they used to evaluate their teams after playing a game.
This was relatively new because this affected the graphics of television. People back then said that it was difficult – that there were too many statistics and that there was too much basketball strategy. Now, I never listened to that because the people who were attacking the style were saying that the mentality of the viewer was at a sixth grade level, so consequently you should not challenge the viewer. My answer to that was that if baseball and football are so scientific and the analysts have 25 seconds between each snap in football and each pitch in baseball, why are you criticizing trying to present basketball as a uniform, highly strategic, five-people-working-together-on-a-string type of game? I didn’t understand this. I never let anybody try to tell me that that was wrong.
Talk about the significance of the 1974-75 ABA championship in your career.
HB: It was the best team I ever coached. That team was only together one year…We lost two of our five starters for financial reasons. Last year that team was put into the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame and it was a great night for the Kentucky Colonels franchise name and for the players and everything. We were brought back to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the championship. We were also featured in the Kentucky Derby parade and for the entire Kentucky Derby weekend. That was the first time that a team was put into the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame. That is very significant when you think back to the incredibly great and outstanding University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Kentucky Wesleyan national championship teams. So that was a great night.
That team only had 10 players. We played 10 guys a quarter. The stars were Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel and Louie Dampier but we were 10 deep. We had a great second unit that pressed and trapped. We could play fast break or slow-down basketball. It was a perfect type of a team to coach. Ten guys, they all played, everyone was happy. There was great chemistry. We were every bit as good defensively as we were offensively. That was the year that Golden State won the NBA championship. Caesars Palace in Las Vegas made a challenge that we play a three game series – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Las Vegas and they would put up – I don’t know the exact amount, you would have to look it up – I think $5 million, which was a lot of money back then. They would pay all the expenses.
Naturally, the ABA Board of Governors voted unanimously for us to play. Unfortunately, the NBA voted in a negative stance, so the games never came off. That was a shame, because that would have been an eye opener for people across the country. There was an ignorance of the incredible talent that was in the ABA at the time and the great style of play – there was a lot of pressing and trapping, matchup zones, the three-point shot and we had the majority of the great, young talented players playing professional basketball at that time.
It is mystifying that Artis Gilmore is not in the Hall of Fame. Talk about his greatness and how underappreciated he is.
HB: When I took over in Kentucky, the team had been in the playoffs a number of years but had never won the championship…What we did is change the emphasis of who we were going to as our first option. That would now be Artis Gilmore. At the end of the season, we tied with the Nets for the best record and had a playoff game. We won the flip of the coin (for home court advantage) and we won the game. In the playoffs we beat Memphis 4-1. Then we beat St. Louis, who had upset the Nets, 4-1. Then we beat Indiana 4-1 in the Finals. Artis Gilmore was voted by Sport Magazine as the MVP of the playoffs and his numbers for points and rebounds in the playoffs were astronomical. He was overpowering. What you have in Artis Gilmore was a great team player, a player that was loved by all of his teammates. He had great humility. When the leagues merged, he went to Chicago and did a great job in Chicago and then moved from Chicago to the San Antonio Spurs, where they had outstanding teams. It is really hard to fathom how he is not in the Hall of Fame. He was such a dominant player.
If Dr. J had entered the NBA with the Nets and they had kept that championship team together, do you think that Dr. J would have put up numbers similar to the type of scoring numbers that Michael Jordan put up because he would have had more freedom and the whole system that Nets’ coach Kevin Loughery was using was different?
HB: Doc was the premier presence of the ABA, not only because of his athleticism and what he accomplished as a player but because of what he did as a human being. His image was impeccable. After we merged in 1976 there was an All-Star Game in Atlanta (in 1978). I was Atlanta’s coach. At the banquet before the night of the All-Star Game, Dr. J was presented with a trophy from Topps trading cards for receiving the most votes. How he accepted that trophy is still one of the greatest speeches that I have ever heard from an athlete.
As you know, the dislike between the two leagues back then was incredible. NBA people would downgrade the ABA and question whether the ABA players could play. The big thing that everybody was talking about if you were an ABA guy was the joshing around about how they said we couldn’t play and then everyone would laugh (because of how many ABA players were in the NBA All-Star Game). Doc had the most votes and that represented the esteem across the country once people got to see him play…
Philadelphia was loaded with talent. By that I mean, distribution of shots became a major issue there. So when Dr. J came in, he did spectacular things, but if he would have come in with the New York Nets his position, his athletic talent, would have been emphasized more from an offensive standpoint. When you look at what Doc accomplished anyway in Philadelphia it was still outstanding. He also came in, I believe, with knee problems. He was the only player in the ABA who could turn your building against you. Every time that we played them for two years, we sold out Freedom Hall in Louisville for the Nets games because the world wanted to see Dr. J. His moves coming on the break, whether down the middle or down the right side – he did things that I have never seen done before or since to turn the sellout crowd in a building in his favor. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Isn’t it true that you would fine your players if they did not foul him – not to hurt him, but to prevent him from dunking – on a fastbreak?
HB: They had to foul him from halfcourt before he got to the foul line to elevate, because once he got in the air it was over. So we would fine our guys. Make him take the ball out of bounds on the side if we were not in the penalty. Even if we were in the penalty, I would take my chances on him going one for two as opposed to him elevating from the foul line, holding the ball like it was a baseball and then doing these whirlwind dunks that were of a nature that was just absolutely incredible. Nobody had ever seen anything like this. We also did that in the NBA when I coached Atlanta and New York, for the same reasons.
I really appreciate the way that you have introduced statistics to the public during your broadcasts. Like you said, you don’t talk down to the public but you try to educate them.
HB: Here’s what you’ve got to remember. When I do clinics all over the world – and I’ve done them since 1970 – I never underestimate the knowledge of the audience. I never underestimate the desire and the probing of that individual’s IQ for the game. I never underestimate them, whether I was doing clinics for coaches from junior high school, high school, college or the pros, FIBA, around the world. I never underestimate their IQ for the game. I present it to them and that’s how people learn – they learn by being challenged.
So what we’re trying to do is to humbly show what the teams are running and why. We want you to understand that most of the action is on the opposite side of the floor, with continuity, and that it is a great game, just like the NFL; that’s all I ever compare it to, to coaches. It’s 11 guys on a string in football, five guys on a string at the NBA level. Because of the 24-second clock and because of the physical presence of the NBA athlete, this is not the game that you see at the high school and college and FIBA levels. They play at rim level, 10 feet.
From day one I try to present the (NBA) game to the people to show that this is a game played a foot above the rim, at the top of the box above the rim – because we have the greatest athletes playing at this level (the NBA). Things are erased because of athleticism, shot blocking, defensive quickness and rotation. I want you to understand that. This is not college basketball. This is not FIBA basketball. This is a game called roller ball. It’s played by the greatest athletes and it’s played under complete duress and duress is the key. Now, are you a man enough to play at this level and, more important, to stay at this level? You’ve got to be a tough person and you must have a lot of courage. Well, I want to present this game. I don’t want everybody out there thinking that these guys just met at 6:00 and are playing at 7:30. Why do people say that football and baseball are so strategic and that they’re more strategic than basketball? That’s a naive person talking. They have no idea what goes into the continuities presented by the great teams in basketball.
David Friedman’s work has appeared in Hoop, Basketball Digest, Sports Collectors Digest and Tar Heel Monthly. He wrote the chapter on the NBA in the 1970s for the anthology Basketball in America: From the Playgrounds to Jordan's Game and Beyond (Haworth Press, 2005). Check out his basketball blog at 20secondtimeout.blogspot.com
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