Mike Brown has always been ‘Steve-first’ – and for that the Warriors are grateful
Mike Brown is back in Cleveland. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
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CLEVELAND — Mike Brown is staying at the Warriors’ team hotel in Cleveland this week, but at least a few times during the trip, he plans to make the 14-mile drive out of downtown to his Westlake home.
It’s a massive estate he purchased back in 2014, during the first season of his five-year deal as Cavaliers’ head coach. He figured he’d be settling down in the area for awhile. But he was fired after Year 1. It’s been vacant for the past two years and is up for sale now for $2.4 million.
Among the things he needs to do: Check on one of his Harleys, which lives in an idle state in the garage. He’ll probably rev it up, he said, and take it for a quick tune-up spin, just like he did regularly during that first year post-firing when he remained in a transition phase in Cleveland — using that motorcycle and the open lakeside road as an escape from thoughts of basketball and the reformed Cavaliers dynasty, resprouting without him, two months later and 14 miles away, because of the return of LeBron James.
Mike Brown was the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach from 2005-10, where he coached LeBron James.
Brown has always expressed only gratitude for LeBron — whose greatness skyrocketed Brown’s coaching career during his first stint with the Cavaliers — and Cleveland, the city his youngest son considers home. And publicly, he’s only been thankful and grateful to the organization, which is still paying him until 2020, ESPN reports.
But natural bitterness remains when you’re fired by the same guy and place twice, especially the way it went down the second time around. Brown latched on in 2013 expecting a patient shot at forming a long-term rebuild. But his general manager (and friend), Chris Grant, was fired midway through Year 1.
He “didn’t see eye-to-eye” with Grant’s replacement, David Griffin, and he butted heads a bit with his young star, Kyrie Irving. Owner Dan Gilbert fired him for a second time.
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
“I kind of regret being part of that,” Irving said. “Because he was just trying to teach me a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily understand as a 21-year-old in the NBA.”
Leading up to these Finals, Brown has avoided any negative comments toward the Cavaliers and publicly brushed away the idea of payback. But you can only imagine that an NBA title, on this stage against this franchise, would taste a bit sweeter.
And it would’ve been delivered with more gusto if he was still the acting head coach of a team that’s currently stomping out the Cavaliers. But Steve Kerr announced his return before Game 2 and, as the series shifts to Cleveland and he shifts back into an assistant role, the ‘Brown vs Cleveland’ storyline has been dampened.
But everyone around the Warriors say they haven’t sensed one ounce of irritation from Brown about a missed opportunity for glorified redemption on a national stage. It goes in line with how they say he’s handled this entire process.
“Mike is just a terrific human being,” Kerr said.
(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)
Brown was handed the keys to this basketball Lamborghini during the middle of the team’s first round series against the Blazers. Before they traveled to Portland, Kerr warned Brown that his health issues had worsened and this was a possibility. Upon arrival, he let Brown know he was going to step away for an indefinite time.
“The message early, during, even later on was that he had ideas, suggestions,” Brown said. “But at the end of the day, he always told me: ‘Do you. If you feel it out on the floor, no matter what I said or told you before the game, you have to do what you feel is right for the team in the moment.’ Bob (Myers) said the same things, which helped me out tremendously.”
But that freedom could’ve also led to a power struggle. Brown could’ve viewed it more as a personal showcase, tried to seep his style into everything and boost his name back to the world, eying a future job opportunity. But he never did, instead guiding Kerr’s system and regularly deferring in press conferences. During the Jazz and Spurs series, he regularly credited Kerr with adjustments that changed the game. Players noticed.
“He never made it about him,” Draymond Green said. “And that’s not an easy thing to do. When you’re coaching a team like this, so many guys would be quick to just make it about themselves: ‘Hey, this is my chance to prove this and go get me another job. This is my chance for everyone to talk about me.’ He never made it about that. In every interview he did, he talked about Steve, he talked about the team. That goes a long way in making these transitions so smooth.”
(Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
In the nine-day layoff leading up to the Finals, Kerr’s health noticeably improved. He mentioned to Brown that he was thinking about coming back. Brown encouraged it.
“In all our conferences we had and our caucuses we had, he was very supportive: ‘Hey, man, when you’re ready, go ahead. Let’s go,’” Bob Myers said. “And not in an insincere way, in an honest and genuine way. But he was wanting Steve out there and it wasn’t about his own agenda or (Cleveland) retribution, it was just about getting Steve out there.”
Brown suggested Kerr return for Game 1 of the Finals, but after a minor setback the night before, Kerr decided against it. Brown got a bit of Finals shine, leading the Warriors to a Game 1 win, improving his playoff record as fill-in head coach to a sparkling 11-0.
But Kerr decided before Game 2 that he was healthy enough for a sideline return. The two had discussed the possibility. Kerr walked into the coaches meeting pregame and told Brown of the decision. There was only elation.
Brown said he’d seen an interview with Matt Barnes earlier in the month. When Barnes signed with the Warriors in early March, he was an immediate rotation piece because Kevin Durant was hurt. But when Durant returned, Barnes disappeared from sight and didn’t utter a peep.
“Somebody asked him about it and he’s like: ‘That’s what this team is. Somebody goes down, somebody steps up and holds down the fort till they get back,’ ” Brown said. “I believe that. Steve wasn’t able to coach, it’s my job to step up. I didn’t look at it as an opportunity (to advance my career) or anything like that. It’s just a job I had to do.”
His bosses noticed.
“I hope he gets credit for how he did handle it with humility and grace,” Myers said. “He was always team-first and Steve-first. It’s easy to sit here and say everyone would do that, but I’m not sure that’s the case. The thing that was most telling was his willingness to concede. I didn’t see one ounce of hesitation. That was real. That wasn’t him (faking it).”