BILBAO, Spain - I may never forget my first encounter with Kwame Brown.

It was back in December 2000, and I was five months into my stint as the high school writer for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C. At the time, Brown was an all-everything senior power forward/center at Glynn Academy in Georgia.

My assignment was to cover his game in the local Beach Ball Classic and write a feature about the then-6-foot-11, 240-pound athletic big.

Let's just say that he was a huge letdown.

Brown was held to seven points by a 6-5, 210-pound center from Socastee High. The Myrtle Beach Convention Center crowd saw someone who appeared disinterested and went through the motions.

So while pointing out his athleticism, I questioned his desire in the article and wrote that the Charleston, S.C., native was a tad overhyped.

Brown, who probably doesn't remember that I wrote the article, was understandably upset. He took out his frustration on the next day's opponents, producing 26 points and 19 rebounds.

It's hard not to think about that while here at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre, where a banner of Brown hangs from the hallway ceiling.

It's hard to call his career a complete failure since he's entering his 13th NBA season. The average NBA career is around 61/2 years.

But his banner here is a reminder of what could have been.

These days, Brown is a seldom-used 290-pounder who didn't make the European trip due to a hamstring injury. There was a thought the Sixers would buy out his $3 million contract.

Since he's still around, what's his role for this season?

"I don't know," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "We just have to get him healthy, and at career-best fitness, so he enjoys the pace of where we are playing at. And I think that he's trying to do that."

Kama Brown's fitness wasn't in question when the Washington Wizards used the first overall pick in the NBA draft on him. Back then, Brown became the first high school player selected No. 1 in the draft.

But his NBA career has been similar to what I witnessed at the Beach Ball Classic.

The 31-year-old's best season came in 2003-04 when he averaged career highs of 10.9 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Wizards. His desire, however, has often come into question. Correct or not, he has become labeled as someone content with just being an NBA player.

He has averaged 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.1 minutes in 607 career games with the Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats, Golden State Warriors, and Sixers.

"I think he gets a lot of flack because you expect a No. 1 pick to put up big numbers," Lavoy Allen said. "So I mean he really didn't do that early on in his career.

"But Kwame is a great teammate. He's strong as hell. I don't have any problems with Kwame."

None of the Sixers does.

They'll tell you that he's a great locker-room guy who garners a lot of respect.

"I think Kwame wouldn't be in the NBA for 13 or 14 years had he not been a good player," Evan Turner said. "A lot of people have been rushed out. Kwame stuck around.

"Kwame has been in playoff situations. Kwame started. He does little things that in certain regards isn't as important to people when it's a high draft pick."

Yet as one league source explained, Brown receives love from teammates and frustrates coaches and general managers.

Perhaps that's why he's never been on one team for more than four seasons.

Brett Brown, who called Kwame enjoyable to talk to, said he doesn't know what his past problems were.

"All I do know is in my opinion, the thinner he can get, the best shape he can get in, will help him the most," the coach said. "He's not going to lose strength by losing weight. I think that it is going help him immensely, reduce injury, and help him get up and down the floor."

That's the plan.

But the huge banner inside the BEC is a reminder of Brown's potential. And his lackluster performance 13 years ago in the classic is an example of why he hasn't reached it.