The Peacock Spreads Its Fan


Pop and Brown

Pop and Brown

Grab your pencils. Impress your local clergy.

There is a way to outline the Book of Genesis by breaking it into 10 neat, identifiable little stories. All you have to do is follow one hebrew word, toledoth. It’s easy. When translated into English toledoth comes out something like, “These are the generations of…” So there in Genesis 2:4 we find “These are the generations of the heavens and earth…” and not long after we bump into another toledoth at 5:1, “These are the generations of Adam…” But wait, there is a trick. Everything that follows Genesis 2:4 is not about the heavens and the earth, it’s about Adam and Eve. And everything that follows 5:1 is not about Adam, it’s about his son, Seth. So it’s not surprising that when we get to the final toledoth–“These are the generations of Jacob…”–that Jacob fades into the backdrop and what follows is the story of his son, Joseph.  If you want to understand the story of Adam, you have to follow the story downstream. In order to evaluate Jacob, you have to look at Joseph. Their children are the fruit by which you know them. You follow?

Mike Brown is this season’s Coach of the Year.  He’s downstream.

Of their time together as coach and assistant, Gregg Popovich recently told Brian Windhorst, “I learned as much from him as he did from me,” Popovich said after the Cavs beat his Spurs on [February 27]. “We had a very collaborative relationship. Now he’s off on his own and he’s kicking [butt].” If the story of San Antonio is to be found in their children, Spurs Midwest are living up to their father’s name. A couple year’s ago, Greg Boech summed up the connection between the two franchises with this succinct rehearsal:

The makings of the Cavaliers’ first Finals in the franchise’s 37 seasons started with Gilbert hiring Mike Brown as coach and Danny Ferry as general manager three months after he bought the club in March 2005.

Brown and Ferry plied their trade with the Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich before landing in Cleveland 25 days apart in June 2005. They will match wits off essentially the same playbook and philosophy when the Finals tip off Thursday night at San Antonio’s AT&T Center. Game 2 is Sunday before the series heads to Cleveland on Tuesday.

Ties and bonds run deep in this series, from the two front offices to the head coaches who are linked by a common mentor. Hank Egan, 69, spent eight seasons as an assistant coach under Popovich (1994-2002) and was hired as an assistant by Brown before his first season in Cleveland.

I don’t want our readers to think that Mike Brown is a good coach by osmosis. He didn’t get here by standing next to Gregg Popovich way back when.  That’s not how it works. But there is an important principle at play here–let’s pull back and look at Mike Brown’s award in a slightly different way.

When you read that quote from Popovich–that he learned as much from Brown as Brown did from him–you passed it off as modesty, right? You thought, “That’s Pop being classy, showing deference.” But let’s assume he spoke plainly. Let’s assume Pop was calling it straight. What then does that teach us?

An easy to miss commonality in all this is just what Popovich told Windhorst. Great people surround themselves with great people. Put differently, Mike Brown was already a good coach when Pop hired him. Pop saw a great coach in Brown, and that’s why he was hired. If we’re going to tag Pop with genius, it’s the genius of discretion. He’s been smart enough to surround himself with the right people.

Dan Gilbert understands this principle. He went out and hired smart people from a smart place. He hired Danny Ferry. Danny Ferry hired Mike Brown. He hired Mike Brown and Danny Ferry.  Mike Brown hired Hank Egan. When Brown’s Cleveland offense was criticized for being too stiff, Brown spent time with Ettore Messina.

The Spurs are very careful about maintaining their culture. When they bring in a player or hire front office personnel, they’re highly selective. They’re looking for Spurs. They’re looking for intelligent, professional, hard working, and, generally speaking, good people. Whenever someone new comes in, they’re immediately and always surrounded by people who contribute to their success.  The story of the Spurs is found in those that follow.  Danny Ferry is building a culture in Cleveland; Kevin Pritchard’s first order of business in Portland was to reshape Trailblazer culture.

Obviously, these teams share other things in common, such as once in a generation superstars. But even these superstars either fit the mold, or buy into it.  Tim Duncan exemplifies the model. LeBron James does not nothing but make those around him better.  And, as you might expect, Popovich and Brown would be the first to say that they’ve been made by Duncan and James. It’s only fitting.

We congratulate Mike Brown for his honor, and we congratulate all those he honors in his success.

  • Hollywood

    And also like Pop, Brown looked a little lost when he began his career. He had a grasp on defense but his offense was equally simplistic – get the ball to the main star and clear out. Brown has improved, obviously, so kudos to him.

  • Juan

    You lost me when you mentioned the book of genesis.

  • LionZion

    The first para of this piece is quite brilliant Tim!

    You had me enticed about seeing some magnificient parallels about how Pop has rubbed off on Brown. But yeah, like you said, Brown was good already and an even better learner maybe. Nice article.

  • One observer

    Just so you know, Mike Brown was hired BEFORE Danny Ferry.

  • Timothy Varner

    Thanks. You’re correct. I had the chronology wrong. I made the correction to the post.

  • Brock Clewes

    Damn! I was going to blog about this subject. Now what am I supposed to write about?

  • Pingback: Ettore Messina will not join Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff | 48 Minutes of Hell()