NEW YORK — Let’s have a big round of applause for Hubie Brown, whose Grizzlies are an astounding 43-26. Other than team president Jerry West, who unflinchingly branded his team “dangerous” to me prior to the exhibition season, I imagine no one else figured Memphis, which began last season 0-8 under Sidney Lowe, would be entrenched in sixth place in the bloodcurdling Western Conference.
“If my feelings about this team are correct,” West unequivocally stated in that same interview, “this will be the most satisfying accomplishment of my career.”
Hubie can’t help but to second West’s emotion. As much as it indisputably meant to him to guide the Kentucky Colonels to their only ABA championship (in 1975) on his first professional head coaching watch, this is a deliriously delicious daydream come true.
If for no other reason than having his son assisting alongside, whispering in his ear, calming him down, just being there ready to help whether it’s needed or not.
Immediately after games, Hubie invariably plants a loving kiss on Brendan’s forehead or cheek.
The first time Hubie brought a team to New York it came by Armada. Before entering the harbor, he disclosed to me recently, he needed clearance from the Dutch.
When Hubie coached his 22-41 Grizzlies to a 87-85 win on March 11, 2003, it was his first time back at Madison Square Garden since ’86 (that’s 1986, not 1896, I’m compelled to clarify) and Brendan was a ball boy. The Knicks finished 23-59 that season and he was exiled to the broadcasting booth, where he elevated himself to Hall of Fame status.
Eighteen seasons later Hubie’s back in force, and a solid bet to beat Utah’s Jerry Sloan for top coaching honors.
Except for the travel, nothing bothers him these days, not the games, the practices, the players, not even the media.
Has Hubie changed?
Haven’t we all!
He’s letting his players run way more than back in the day, and he’s treating them with more respect. The most amazing aspect, he says, about coaching then and coaching now “is the same stuff still works.”
Why are the Grizzlies playing so well?
Hubie is reason number uno. His players respect him because he demands professionalism: Be on time, work hard, know your job, and know when to pass and when to shoot. Although his demands are simply stated players tend to let up; Hubie will not allow anyone to let up.
Why are the Grizz playing so cohesively?
When Hubie and his staff took over they gave themselves time to evaluate all the players. West appreciated that; it gave him time to see who could fit into Hubie’s system, and he handled the business of adding (Mike Miller, James Posey, Bonzi Wells, Bo Outlaw) and subtracting accordingly.
Other players (Jason Williams, Pau Gasol, Shane Battier) have made great improvement; still others (Earl Watson, Outlaw, Lorenzen Wright and Stromile Swift) have upgraded their contribution as role players.
Who’s most surprising?
Posey, by far. West and Hubie knew he was good, but not this good. They bargained for an athletic wing defender and got much more than that. He has drastically improved his two-point, three-point and free-throw shooting.
Is Hubie truly not doing anything all that different than way back when?
He’s basically unchanged. He coaches to his personality, swearing by an aggressive defense measured by deflections, turnovers, steals, blocks and defensive rebounding. The Grizzlies are at or near the top in NBA ranking in all of these categories.
Why are the players so responsive to him?
They see he cares for each of them personally as well as players. He is fair.
Who would have thought Hubie had any fire left in him after being harpooned by the Knicks, or that he was still capable of breathing life into a team?
Think about it — in those days the Grizzlies weren’t even part of the Association, and Tennessee wasn’t even in the union.
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