CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Larry Brown wanted to resurrect his vagabond, Hall of Fame coaching career. Michael Jordan needed a veteran teacher and a big hire to rescue his sinking reputation as an NBA executive.
The two former North Carolina players teamed up Tuesday when Jordan introduced Brown as coach of the Charlotte Bobcats — his ninth NBA coaching job. Brown agreed to a four-year contract, returning to the state where his nomadic coaching journey began.
“How are you going to say no to Michael?” Brown said. “I’ve known him a long time. The things he stands for have made our game better. There’s no way I could say no to him. It was a pretty easy decision once my wife said yes.”
The 67-year-old Brown replaces Sam Vincent, whom Jordan hired last year despite no NBA head coaching experience. Vincent, who was fired Saturday, struggled to find consistent rotations and clashed with players in a 32-50 season.
Brown’s nine NBA teams are three more than any other coach — Kevin Loughery and Lenny Wilkens each coached six.
“I think I’ve coached almost everybody in the NBA, but I’m going to challenge everybody to do their best,” Brown said. “That’s what Michael is about and that’s what I’m about.”
The Bobcats are in their fourth year, and Brown gives the struggling franchise instant credibility. He’s one of only five NBA coaches with more than 1,000 wins and the only coach to lead teams to NBA and NCAA titles.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on Larry,” Jordan said. “But I think this is the atmosphere he enjoys.”
But Brown hasn’t lasted anywhere long, and has had some ugly divorces. His last coaching job was the disastrous 2005-06 season in New York, when the Knicks went 23-59 and Brown clashed with management.
His dismissal was followed by a long dispute over how much money he was owed for the rest of his contract.
A deal eventually was struck and Brown became an executive vice president with the Philadelphia 76ers, but Brown yearned to return to the bench.
“I was a bad coach. I did a bad job. I learned from that,” Brown said, referring to his time with the Knicks. “But being out of it in the last few years, even though I had a title in Philly ... I just missed being around the game. I love it. I want to be a part of it.”
Jordan said he contacted Brown before hiring Vincent last spring, but Brown said he wasn’t ready to return. He changed his mind late this season, quitting his job in Philadelphia after being interviewed for the Stanford opening.
“I’m from California, but we just moved in September,” said Brown’s wife, Shelly. “Selfishly, I would not be ready to up and move to another coast. I think here Larry is surrounded by a lot of great guys with the same value system, same character. And they all want to win.”
Brown was a point guard at North Carolina under Dean Smith, decades before Jordan led the school to a national title under the same coach. Brown’s coaching career took root in this state. He was hired to coach Davidson, only to resign a month later without a coaching a game. He then went on to coach the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
While Brown took UCLA to the Final Four and won an NCAA title with Kansas, most of his experience has been in the NBA. Brown improved teams in Denver, San Antonio, Indiana and Philadelphia and won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
“I’m very excited, of course,” Bobcats point guard and former Tar Heel Raymond Felton said. “Carolina guy. He loves his point guards, for one. And on top of that he’s a great coach. He’s going to come in every day and he’s going to try to get us better. I’m definitely looking forward to this experience.”
Brown, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, will now try to get the Jason Richardson-led Bobcats into the playoffs and help Jordan taste success for the first time in two stints running NBA teams.
While Jordan won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls, he’s made several questionable moves in the front office.
Vincent’s ouster marked the second time a coach Jordan hired lasted only one season. Leonard Hamilton resigned after going 19-63 with the Washington Wizards in 2000-01.
Jordan was fired by the Wizards. He bought a minority stake in the Bobcats in 2006 and took over the decision-making from Bernie Bickerstaff. When Bickerstaff moved to the front office after three seasons on the bench, Jordan replaced him with Vincent.
“I told Michael, ’I’m not coming here unless I know you’re fully committed,”’ Brown said. “He told me that last year and he told me it again. You know how competitive he is. He wants to win. I can get to him at anytime, and he’s surrounded himself with people that I really respect and like.”
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