UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas - Everywhere Larry Brown goes, it seems, people are still talkin' about practice.
In airports. In restaurants. And especially in the homes of high-school basketball players.
Brown is a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and the only coach ever to win both NCAA and NBA championships. But to many - perhaps most - the first image that comes to mind when it comes to Larry Brown is that of an incredulous Allen Iverson sitting behind a microphone talking about practice. Again and again.
"Everywhere I go," said Brown, the newly hired coach at SMU. "It's funny, people wait on me and they say, 'Practice? We're talking about practice?' They'll tell me, 'He said it 21 times, coach.' They'll know the exact number."
It has been 10 years since Iverson famously took issue with the contention of Brown, his coach, that the high-scoring guard's shoddy practice habits contributed to the 76ers' first-round playoff exit a year after their appearance in the NBA Finals.
A year later, coach and player went their separate ways. And yet, Brown said, in some ways he has never felt closer to his controversial star.
"I benefited so much from being around him and at the time I wasn't really aware of it. His competitiveness, his compassion, his will to win, the way his teammates loved him, the relationship I had with him. Even though people on the outside might have thought it was like that," Brown said as he knocked his fists together, "we were attached. Since I've been away from him, we've gotten closer at a distance. And I do find wherever I go, how much of an influence he had on the sport, and I was a part of that."
That relationship has been a big help to Brown as he begins his latest incarnation as a college coach.
At 72, there is a decided generation gap between the coach and the teenagers he must recruit. Iverson, it turns out, is often the bridge.
"That's my greatest connection," Brown said. "Not that I coached David Robinson or David Thompson or Dan Issel. They know Allen . . . When I watched other [teams] practice, all the kids came up to me and asked me about Allen.
"I thought at the time I was coaching him that he had an unbelievable influence on the game. But as time has gone on, I'm finding out he had an even greater impact, especially among young black kids. And I love it. I love talking about it and talking about my relationship with him and what he meant in my life."
Coaching Iverson meant so much to Brown that at times he sees it as a higher calling.
"God put me here to coach Allen Iverson," he told the audience at a recent coaches' clinic at SMU. "At the time I was doing it, I wasn't so sure.
"Allen had this unbelievable will to win but he was not easy to play with, except for the fact that every time he stepped between the lines, his teammates knew he was going to do everything within his power to win the game. Sometimes, it might have been a little misguided, but you never questioned his desire to win, his will to win or his toughness."