Dale Brown, humanitarian and basketball coach, finally gets his just reward
The good Lord knew something all of us didn’t when Dale Brown was born on Halloween Day 1935.
For 25 seasons as LSU’s head basketball coach and the 25 years since he retired, he has been the daily trick or treat and sometimes both simultaneously that has touched more lives than any of us will ever realize.
Tuesday night prior to and at halftime of LSU's 65-60 win over Kentucky, LSU finally recognized the 86-year-old Brown with a ceremony to name the Pete Maravich Assembly Center court in his honor.
It took a quarter of a century for Dale Brown Court to navigate the murky political waters stirred by various sets of LSU Board of Supervisors, as well as a list of past school presidents and chancellors.
There are still old-timers in the current LSU administration who were vehemently against Brown having the court named after him. It finally got approved thanks to a double-team by Glenn Armentor of Lafayette and Collis Temple of Baton Rouge, two members of the current Board of Supervisors.
Armentor introduced the idea 2½ years ago and was the initial point man trying to get it approved. He picked up a valuable ally in July 2020 when Temple, the first African American basketball player at LSU who finished his college career under Brown, was named to the Board.
Armentor and Temple, with the help of many of Brown’s former players and media advocates like Tim Brando and Jim Engster, finally got the measure approved at a contentious Board meeting almost four months ago.
Board member and former Board chair Mary Werner, who was clueless about Brown’s true value in LSU history, did her best with a laughable argument to railroad a favorable vote.
“The court should be named for a coach who wins a national championship. . .nothing against Dale Brown, but this is the inappropriate honor at the inappropriate time,” Werner said.
In a pointed final filibuster that swayed a 12-3 vote to name the court, Temple torched Brown dissenters like Werner.
”We’ve had 10 years to talk about this and the reason we’ve talked about it for 10 years was because some folk didn’t want to do (it) for this nigger-loving Dale Brown,” Temple said. “He changed the trajectory of the state of Louisiana and the mindset of all the stereotypical negativity.”
Sure, Brown won 448 games, four SEC regular season titles with 13 NCAA tournament appearances including two Final Fours.
But coaching was more of a pulpit for Brown.
He became a defender of the underdog and a spokesman of the unjust, stemming from being raised by his single mother in Minot, North Dakota after his father left two days before his birth never to return.
When Brown was eight years old, his mother told him the landlord threatened to evict them if little Dale continued to scuff the linoleum with his shoes in the apartment building where he would play basketball by shooting folded mittens and socks over a hot water heater.
He immediately marched down to the landlady’s apartment and told her, “Don’t you ever talk to my mother like that again, you hear me?” Then, he turned and walked down the hall dragging his heels and scuffing linoleum.
Since that day, Brown never again backed away from scuffing the proverbial linoleum.
He didn’t care if he was the fly in the ointment, the lone howling voice of dissension. If he saw something he determined unfair, he sprinted head-on into the fight and never backed off.
Though his wife Vonnie and daughter Robyn sometimes convinced him to turn the other cheek in situations he could have avoided, Brown’s mantra was protecting the unprotected.
Especially when it came to his program and his players.
Brown was an unknown 36-year old assistant coach from Washington State when he was hired by then-LSU athletic director Carl Maddox in the spring of 1972 to replace Press Maravich who had been fired.
"I said (during his job interview at LSU) I promise you this, I'm going to recruit human beings first," Brown said during his Tuesday night halftime speech. "I'm going to recruit basketball players second. Now that means you may have an all black team. You may have an all white team. You may have an all foreign team. You may have a combination of all (of those teams).
"Not one person said, `Hey, this is the wrong guy.'"
Brown didn’t mind charging into physical confrontations, like in the 1992 SEC tournament finals when he had to be held back from attacking Tennessee forward Carlus Groves.
Groves tried to yank down Tigers’ center Shaquille O’Neal by his waist when he tried to dunk, and O’Neal and Groves began to fight.
Brown, who had complained to the SEC office all season that officials allowed the 7-1 O’Neal to get physically beaten to hell, ran on the court and had to be physically restrained from decking Groves.
In Brown’s second season at LSU in 1973-74, he wrestled a Vanderbilt fan to the floor late in a Tigers’ home game. The fan, who was sitting courtside on press row with the Vandy radio crew, jumped the table to get involved in a fight between LSU and Vandy players that included Temple who was trying to defend teammate Wade Evans.
Such confrontations fed into the notion Brown enjoyed looking for a fight. But the public rarely saw his compassion.
A regretful Brown wrote letters of apology to Groves and his parents (never receiving a response) and called then-UT coach Wade Houston and apologized.
And that Vandy fan who Brown tackled?
His name was Bob Dudley Smith, a former Vanderbilt basketball player from 1948 to 1952 and a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. What he did that night in Baton Rouge haunted him for decades,
Incredibly, 44 years after it happened, it was Brown who arranged a reunion in February 2018 at an LSU home game between the 87-year old Smith, his two sons and the Tigers’ players involved in the fight.
“Vintage Dale Brown,” Temple said of the reunion that finally erased Smith’s heartache and embarrassment.
Also, Brown helped push through a parole for Ulysses Long, a prisoner in the Louisiana state penitentiary serving a 130-year sentence for an armed robbery that netted him $6.50. Long was incarcerated when he refused to turn state's evidence on his three accomplices.
Brown, who visited the prison with his teams through the years, was told by a warden that Long was a model prisoner who shouldn’t be in prison. After Brown appeared before the parole board on Long's behalf, it agreed to release Long. Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards balked at signing off on the parole until Brown told him, “If you sign this (parole) and he (Long) commits one more criminal act, I’ll resign my job at LSU.”
Edwards signed the parole. After just more than 20 years in prison, Long became a free man at age 45 and lived 21 more years before dying in 2010.
When Brown retired from coaching after the 1996-97 season, he accelerated the fight he started more than 10 years prior in September 1983 when he wrote a letter recommending 43 NCAA rule changes that would give student-athletes more rights.
He sent his missive to the NCAA staff, college presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, faculty reps, head football and basketball coaches and Division 1 conference commissioners.
Today, almost 35 of Brown’s recommendations have been approved by the NCAA.
Yet, his best trait still shines.
Brown coached 160 players at LSU with 111 graduating. Whether they were starters or barely played, he still calls and checks in with all of them on their lives, to see how their careers and families are doing.
Brown never stops living his perfect nickname “Daddy Dale,” even Tuesday when he spoke to the crowd while surrounded by almost 100 of his former players, managers and trainers.
He thanked his mother for “giving me values.” He thanked his wife for “tolerating me for 62 years. . .I couldn’t tolerate myself for 62 years. He thanked his daughter, who has been a valued, sensible sounding board for her dad.
And then Brown turned and looked at the aged faces who returned from all parts of the United States to see their coach one more time on a night that should have happened long ago.
They made the effort to reunite with the coach they first came to as teenagers not knowing what awaited them in life, the mentor who taught them basketball was just a speck in the universe, the man who has never stopped caring about them.
“The old thing `the best potential of me is we’, here’s the perfect example,” Brown said looking around. “I was a small part of this.”
No, Dale. YOU were LSU basketball. Now, with your name on the court, generations of fans – with a simple Google search – will know who you were.
Which was so much more than just a basketball coach.