SAN ANTONIO - The pregame routine had to be altered. Normally, 76ers coach Brett Brown gets out on the court about 2 hours before the game to work out with injured rookie Nerlens Noel. But Brown didn't make it onto the court for his normal routine last night. Instead, he was sharing hugs and handshakes with those who came by to say hello, including current San Antonio Spur Tony Parker and former Spur Bruce Bowen.
Brown was making his first return to San Antonio as a head coach after spending 12 seasons with the Spurs as an assistant to Gregg Popovich. He helped turn Parker into an All-Star player. He molded Bowen into becoming an above-average three-point shooter to go along with his lock-down defensive ability.
"Philadelphia better be happy with what they have in coach Brown," Bowen said. "He is a guy who is going to get things done, get it turned around. Brett is the type of guy who will never stop teaching, never not be there for a player."
While people were quick to approach the affable Brown, he greeted them all with: "Don't feel sorry for me and don't feel sorry for the Philadelphia 76ers. We are going to play hard every night. We do not want anyone's pity." Then as Parker approached, Brown told him: "Play your hardest tonight. Give us your best shot. It's the only way our guys will learn."
They couldn't learn from Parker, as Popovich decided to give him a rest because of an Achilles' issue, but Brown was sincere. Despite the constant losing, his determination and drive are as high as ever.
"He's one of my best friends, someone I respect immensely, someone I care about and someone who is really talented," Popovich said of Brown. "He is tough as nails. He is as tough-minded as the environment that exists [in Philadelphia]. He has a great competitiveness and an unbelievable fiber. He keeps his eye on what's important, and he'll always be participatory and creative, but, at the same time, be consistent in his demands in knowing what wins and loses. He'll stick with the program. He is as loyal as the day is long. He's a winner in life in a whole lot of ways."
Brown learned his trade under Popovich with one of the best organizations in the NBA, if not the best. It is a model he wants to emulate in building his program. And one he wants his players to absorb.
"It's everything [about the San Antonio organization]," Brown said. "You're going to look down and see Patty Mills swinging a towel. You're going to see people help people off the floor. You're going to see [Manu] Ginobili gather a team at the free throw line to make sure they understand what defense or offense they are going to be when they go down the other end of the floor. You're going to see Pop get stuck into somebody, and that somebody is going to allow him to coach them. And you're going to see people greet people coming off the floor, and you're going to see an incredibly talented team coached by the best coach in the game.
"Where do you begin on pointing out different examples? That word culture - how do you build something - is such a talked word but such a very hard-to-do word. All of those things will be opportunities to share with Nerlens and Michael [Carter-Williams], and so on."
Popovich took no pleasure in beating his friend last night, but it is something he must do now. He knows Brown wouldn't accept anything else from his mentor than to coach as he always does - to win.
"I feel terrible for him, but I don't feel sorry for him," Popovich said. "I feel badly for him, because he has to go through it, but I don't need to feel sorry for him, because he'd be angry if he knew I felt sorry for him. He doesn't want anybody to feel sorry for him. He understands that he's living the dream and doing what he loves to do and he's more fortunate than 99.9 percent of the people on the planet. There's no pity. There's no feeling bad. He doesn't feel bad for himself. He looks forward to going to work every day. He's going to work his guys to death, and he's going to love them to death at the same time."