This Sunday, Brett Brown join the Jr NBA Coaches program online in the OQLWO app (see below to connect). On the sidelines of this action to pass on his experience and knowledge, we had the chance to chat a little with the former Philadelphia Sixers coach, who told us about his new life without the NBA, his history with Australia, the importance that Gregg Popovich had in his life, but also his eventful experience in Philadelphia.
BasketSession: When you’ve coached the NBA for so many years in a row (13), whether as a head coach or an assistant, how do you manage this new situation without a team position?
Bret Brown: Like you said, I’ve been on the NBA team for two decades and you get used to a certain lifestyle and certain responsibilities on a daily basis. In all honesty, the last two years have been the best years of my adult life. I’ve been able to visit my parents, who are 85, quite often, and I’m responding to you from the home I grew up in in Portland, Maine. I still live in Philadelphia and have been able to spend the last few years with all my children under one roof managing the pandemic. I got to see my son being considered a high school prospect and he just applied to the NCAA with the University of Pennsylvania. I’m really proud of that because everyone, him first, worked so hard for it. My life was at a crazy pace all these years. I played in three Olympic Games, in Sydney, Atlanta and London, and then I had to work all year in the NBA, but I loved it. To put it simply, I would say my life is good today. I’m 61 years old and I’ve been doing this job for a long time, it was great, but this Covid period has finally been conducive and I turned it into a period where I took time to get things done.
Why did you agree to participate in the Jr NBA Coaches program?
Bret Brown: I am the son of a coach and even at 85 years old, my father is the “real” coach of the family. He retired about ten years ago and was inducted into the New England Hall of Fame. When I was young, I saw many coaches ask him for advice when he was a coach in the NCAA Premier League or in high school. I grew up in this environment where we help people. So I’m trying to share my three decades of international experience, having lived almost 20 years in Australia and married an Australian. I want to share my vision as an individual who has not been limited to the United States, but has seen the world. The basketball community is connected around the world. Considering that and the fact that I love teaching, I really enjoy this opportunity with the NBA Jr coaches and I enjoy doing it.
As you said, you spent almost 20 years in Australia, after going there initially as a tourist. With all these years spent there to play, train and live, where do you think that very particular game DNA and character that we find in Australian athletes comes from?
Bret Brown: If you really want to dig, it comes from the history of Australia, which was a colony where prisoners were sent to prison. The way the country developed over the years, the persecution of the aborigines, the absorption of the white man’s culture… All these historical realities gave rise to this almost innate fighting spirit and the toughness that is built in comradeship. The concept of ‘companionship’, as they say there, of friendship, is a philosophy that leads you to never let your companions down. There is an almost cultural hardness now. We are talking about a country the size of the United States, but which has only 25 million inhabitants, almost all of them clustered on the coast, since the interior is essentially a red desert. Australians have historically loved sport and competition. It is also what makes the country go round, with the great attachment they have to their flag.
You were always seen as a coach very focused on the relationship with his players. How important was that in your approach and do you keep in touch with them today?
Bret Brown: I keep listening to my former players. I’ve been coaching professionally since I was 24, so when you do the math for almost 40 years of career, you end up with an incredible number of players and coaches that you’ve served. The relationships that were created all over the world made me part of a kind of great fraternity. Everyone has a different view of what a coach should do with their players. There is no wrong answer as long as the way you train is true to who you are. This is how you deliver your message to your players. Everyone chooses their path, but this side that is very close to the players is something very important to me and defined me. To me, if you can talk to someone in any context, you can train them. Otherwise, it will definitely be difficult. Nowadays, the discussion is not always simple, but I assume that it is the coach’s role to achieve this and find the solutions.
Which current NBA player that you don’t have under your belt would you dream of collaborating with?
Bret Brown: The name that immediately comes to mind, for all it represents, is Giannis Antetokounmpo. There’s professionalism, humility, incredible talent, fierce competitiveness… He also seems to be a great teammate. When we speak of him, it is as much for his human qualities as for the athletic gift he received. I’ve always respected him and it’s really the name I quote right away when I’m asked which player I’d like to work with.
Pop tells us that it’s more for Tim Duncan that we should send a greeting card during the holidays, because it’s thanks to him that we’re able to afford houses and guarantee our children’s education.
You were Gregg Popovich’s assistant and a member of the Spurs organization for years. What influence did Pop have on you?
Bret Brown: I don’t even know where to start. You realize I have a father in the New England Hall of Fame, who was trained by Rick Pitino in college for four years at Boston University – he’s in the Hall of Fame, period – so I worked for Lindsey Gaze in Australia, then with Gregg Popovich, the most winning coach in NBA history. I literally lived in touch with royalty when it comes to coaching. Each of these coaches taught me things and taught me qualities. With Pop, what stands out to me is that he is absolutely flawless on a human level. When you see him on TV, with his military background, you might think otherwise, but his relatives and his family know this, he is exceptionally human. There is also its resistance in competitiveness. He kept the flame of victory alive throughout his career. He changed my life and that of my family. Pop tells us that it’s more for Tim Duncan that we should send a greeting card during the holidays, because it’s thanks to him that we’re able to pay for the houses and guarantee our children’s education (laughs). But if Tim is primarily responsible for our bank accounts, Pop must at least be second. These two changed our lives.
From the outside, this adventure in Philadelphia must have been emotionally complicated to manage with very different periods in terms of ambitions and competitiveness, between the Process and the end of its story there…
Bret Brown: At first I tried to stick to my philosophy and focus on helping the young players I coached at the beginning of the adventure. I knew that in the end it would help me too. My first idea was: how to make these young people stay in the NBA? In my first few seasons, we took a lot of rights in the teeth. I accepted the job knowing what the plan was and that it would be a total rebuild. I didn’t know it would take that long, obviously, because of the injuries to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons who also missed their first season, the situation around Markelle Fultz, the fact that I work with three different general managers… things that prolonged this period when we were not competitive. In the meantime, I focused on the youth, and then we’ve still managed to reach the East Semifinals twice in my last three seasons, going once to Game 7. We’ve advanced the franchise. Overall, I loved my experience in Philadelphia and am so grateful to have had this opportunity. It’s a tough city, which I appreciated thanks to what I also got to know in Australia and Boston before that. Even though it looked tormented from the outside, it was still amazing.
You’ve seen Joel Embiid grow after a rocky start in the NBA. How do you rate the player he is today?
Bret Brown: With my history there, of course I continue to follow the Sixers and wish them the best of luck. I know all these guys. I was there when we brought in Tobias Harris or when we recruited Matisse Thybulle… The situation hasn’t been easy this year with Ben Simmons and Joel injured. I was also disappointed to learn that Joel had not been named MVP this season. For me, it had to be him. The most pleasant thing for me, having seen him when he arrived, is his development as a person, with the maturity that comes with that. He has a partner, a son… All of this helps him to manage this formidable talent. I could see his leadership, his maturity, his willingness to take responsibility and the way he took care of his body, he was on a mission this year. Doc Rivers does an excellent job with Joel and their connection is excellent. He has the complete package as a player and as a person now. I’m happy to continue to follow his development.
There is a lot of talk about the possible naturalization of Joel to come and play for the France national team. Is this something he has already discussed with you?
Bret Brown: We haven’t talked about it between us, but I know it’s a possibility for him. Do you think a frontcourt with Joel, Rudy Gobert and the very tall kid coming up (Victor Wembanyama, editor’s note) would be good or not (laughs)?
A little prediction for the playoffs?
Bret Brown: I’m not as into the regular season as I was when I was a coach, obviously, but I do enough to stay connected with what’s going on. I follow the playoffs and I love them. I had the chance to play 5 NBA Finals with San Antonio and win 4 thanks to Pop. It’s an unimaginable experience. As for predictions, I try not to make any because that would be insulting the work of a former collaborator or friend, it’s a dangerous game (laughs).
The Jr program NBA Coaches – Online presented by Gatorade® is hosted on OWQLO and offers 12 live virtual sessions from February to September for app users aged 16 and over in France. The next session with the former NBA coach Brett Brown will take place on Sunday, May 22. For more information, visit owqlo.com, gatorade.
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