Kwame Brown Finally Meets Michael Jordan's Expectations
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ten years later, Michael Jordan's expectations for Kwame Brown had clearly changed.
His center, his No. 1 pick, the player who for so long symbolized his shortcomings as a front-office type, had scored 14 points and grabbed 18 rebounds for Charlotte in a win against the Kings Tuesday night. And Jordan, the former Washington president of basketball operations and current Bobcats owner who learned long ago that his vision was blurry when it came to taking Brown at the top in 2001, was finally satisfied with his much-maligned big man.
"About damn time you redeemed that draft pick," he said playfully while giving Brown a fist-pound in the visitors locker room at Arco Arena.
The room erupted with laughter, the significance of the comment clearly lost on no one. More importantly, Brown was laughing and smiling too.
There was a time when the laughter that surrounded Jordan and Brown was a more sinister sort, the rookie player and the rookie executive becoming laughingstocks together when their pairing went so poorly. Brown underachieved on the floor, Jordan overwhelmed him with his fiery ways off of it, and it seemed their shared infamy had come to an end when Brown left for the Lakers in 2005.
But they're enjoying this most unexpected reunion lately, with Brown's contributions as a starter helping in this recent turnaround after he signed a one-year, veteran's minimum contract worth $1.3 million during the summer. The past has become nothing more than a punch line even for them, all while the present is proving quite pleasing.
"He's always been like that," Brown said of Jordan just after the hilarious moment had passed. "Everybody tried to make it like we hated each other, but I wouldn't have come back if that was the case.
"We're always going to be associated, because he picked me No. 1. He's arguably the greatest basketball player who ever played, and everybody was watching that pick. But no matter who got picked, (he) wouldn't have lived up to that hype. Everybody comes back in hindsight (with) their opinions, but right now I'm just trying to focus on just winning ballgames and getting back to the playoffs like this team was last year. All that other stuff is over with."
And what he's left with, it seems, is a chance to salvage a career that seemed lost.
Brown was seemingly on his way out of the league last summer before Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins came calling in August. The deal that no one saw coming was done on Aug. 23., with Brown saying he never spoke with Jordan during the process.
But at 28 years old with nine seasons behind him, the Jordan factor was a non-factor in Brown's mind. He needed a job.
This was certainly that, as the Bobcats had traded center Tyson Chandler to Dallas and fellow Charlotte big man Erick Dampier was expected to be waived. That left Nazr Mohammed and DeSagana Diop as his competition.
"I just looked at the situation, looked at the team ... and the position was open, so that's what I went for," Brown explained.
Yet sharing a last name with his former coach did nothing for his chances at redemption, as Larry Brown only occasionally wondered what Kwame Brown could do for him. He saw some time as a reserve, but spent plenty of nights on the bench as well.
Interim coach Paul Silas had a different vision after he was brought in on Dec. 23, putting Brown in the starting lineup for his 11-20 team on Jan. 3. The Bobcats have won eight of 13 games since, with Brown averaging 9.2 points and nine rebounds during that span while shooting at a rate (58.3 percent) that would qualify for fourth-best in the league if he had done it all season. As it is, his field-goal percentage of 54.3 is the second-best of his career.
And while it took Jordan's approval for Brown to get yet another chance to live up to his potential, he credits Jordan's longtime friend and new Bobcats assistant coach Charles Oakley for some of the recent progress.
"(Oakley) has just helped me keep it simple," Brown said. "When I was coming out of high school (Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia), I was getting the ball a lot, scoring a lot. Now as a big man, it's learning a role, doing your role, which is to start off rebounding, protecting the boards, protecting the paint, and then when you get your opportunities you finish them."
Silas has been good for Brown as well.
"Coach Silas does a great job of encouraging us to shoot the ball," Brown said. "He tells everybody to shoot the ball. A lot of times as a big (man), coaches want you to do just one thing, which is rebound. But on this team, it's not a problem if you shoot the ball when you're open and you miss. He's almost looking at you (negatively) if you react to missing."
Along the way, Brown has implemented his lessons learned from the toughest of roads as well.
"At 19, I didn't have any patience," he said. "When things didn't go well, I hung my head and kind of got frustrated, just got upset. And when you get upset, you can't really do anything well. When you're playing basketball early, you still have a maturation process to go through. If I had it to do all over again, I think I would have just stayed patient and I think I would have progressed nicely."
Better late than never, of course, for him and for Jordan.
"(Jordan) has been encouraging me all week, just saying 'Keep it simple and don't settle. Just stay in the gym,'" Brown said. "When I wasn't playing, I was in the gym by myself with my guys ... and once I got the starting job, (Jordan) told me, 'Don't cut that out. Just keep going.'
"A lot of times when you're on the outside looking in, a lot of people assume things. But I never had a problem with Michael, and he never had a problem with me."