At a time when the Nets want desperately to convince players everywhere that being a Net is not a one-way ticket to nowhere, they could not have a better spokesman than Tony Brown. He might not have had a near quarter-century career in the NBA if not for the team he now serves as interim coach.
“Being drafted by the Nets was a highlight of my life,” said the man who was a fourth-round pick in 1982 and finally played for the team in 1986-87. “It took a while before I got here, but I had a great experience playing for the Nets. Obviously we weren’t very good at that time but it gave me a chance to get my feet wet as a player in the NBA.”
He had his best season with the then-New Jersey Nets, playing regularly and averaging 11.3 points, his only double-figure year. Brown missed all of 1987-88 with an injury and was traded in 1988 — in a deal with the Rockets for Joe Barry Carroll — but it was his Nets experience that established his name in the league and has led to a fulfilling career as a player and coach ever since.
So he had a distinct perspective Saturday night when he criticized his players, especially the substitutes, for having “let go of the rope a little bit” and not putting up enough of a fight in the second half as the Hawks turned a tie game into a 28-point laugher. When Brown was a sub on the Nets’ bench, he kept working and wound up in the starting lineup.
When he was asked about those days, he generously said he was promoted because of injuries. A look back at reports from 30 years ago, though, indicates that Brown’s play was impressive enough to convince coach Dave Wohl to start him over incumbent Albert King.
“That was so long ago, I’ve got to dust off the cobwebs,” he said on Saturday. “I got a good feel about how to be a starter, I had to be ‘on’ at the beginning of games. I wasn’t in anybody’s mind a great offensive player, but I took opportunities when they came to me.”
He realizes there is almost no chance he will be named the coach for next season. Nevertheless, he does see this as another opportunity to extend a career that once saw him as a fellow assistant with Wohl on Doc Rivers’ staff in Boston. Brown says he has come “full circle” and he will give all of his Nets chances to make their own way. They just need to try as hard as he always did.
“It is,” he said, “a blank canvas.”