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So Far, Things Aren't Going Well With Pacers, so Larry Brown Must . . . : Plan His Next Move


In "Annie Hall," Woody Allen's Alvy Singer writes a happy ending to replace the end of his relationship with Annie.

"What do you want?" he asks the audience. "It was my first play. You know how you're always trying to make things to come out perfect in art because they're real difficult in life?"

Larry Brown is still trying to make things come out perfect in his art, although at the moment he's losing ground. . . .


Ohhhhhh, nooooooo!

It's a rainy Monday night in Sacramento and the Indiana Pacers, the eighth team to call him coach, have sunk so low, they're sending up air bubbles.

By halftime they're down 22. They're already 3-8. Brown, noting the stocked young rosters in Orlando and Charlotte, has already begun wondering out loud what future this group of players has. Not that there's much of a nucleus left to dismantle. Chuck Person went last season. Detlef Schrempf was traded this fall by General Manager Donnie Walsh in a trade that might have been better received.

Said an Indianapolis News headline: "Walsh Builds a Contender."

Said the deck under it: "However, That Place Is Seattle."

Brown loves to coach, loves everything about it except the games, which are excruciating. His players are now demonstrating why.

He doesn't trust himself to talk to players after games anymore. If he slept next to a waiver wire, they might all be gone by morning. Walsh, his lifetime friend and onetime assistant coach, marvels at Brown's far-flung solutions: deals that involve sending the new player somewhere else for someone else. Walsh suspects that if they followed Brown's logic through to its conclusion, they would wind up with the same 12 players.

At halftime in Arco Arena, Brown goes off.

The Pacers come back out and increase their deficit to 25. Obviously, this isn't working out the way he planned it.

Plans? His plans went out the window 30 years ago. He wanted to be Dean Smith and he turned into a Bedouin.

He will be in the Hall of Fame, perhaps with a suitcase under his bust, but all anyone seems to know about him anymore is that he moves around.

Nor are they shy about reminding him about it.

On the Arco Arena scoreboard, the Kings flash a quiz. Who said: "Larry Brown is like Liz Taylor. Just when you think it's over, someone new is ready to walk him down the aisle."

Was it Clipper owner Donald T. Sterling, former UCLA Coach John Wooden or Brown's boss, Donnie Walsh?

The answer: Walsh.

No one enjoys telling Brown stories more than his friends, who figure they have earned the right after a lifetime of talking him down from ledges and removing sharp objects from his presence. The thing about Larry is, he's so innocent in his torment, so open and trusting and ready to laugh. Cheering him up makes you feel good about yourself.

Maybe Indiana will be the charm. If his friends can only smooth that manic edge and keep that precision-jeweled mind on the job, not to mention within the program, the Pacers might do anything.

Under Brown, the Denver Nuggets had their two best seasons.

Under Brown, UCLA made its only post-Wooden appearance in an NCAA championship game.

The New Jersey Nets made their first two NBA playoff appearances.

Kansas won its only post-Phog Allen NCAA title.

The San Antonio Spurs had their two best seasons.

The Clippers made their only playoff appearances.

Amid the celebration in Arco Arena, the Pacers' rally starts.

It takes awhile to notice, but they're whittling the lead to 18, to 15, to 12.

Brown is screaming at players with such vehemence, they're actually startled, despite having heard it many times before. The veins are starting to bulge on his forehead.

The Pacers come all the way back and win.

Brown, monogrammed shirt plastered against his chest, glows, remembering how his young players stepped up: Dale Davis, Pooh Richardson, the rookie, Scott Haskin. Hope is back in the world.

Another night, another catharsis. The Pacers head for Los Angeles for another of his returns--his first game in the Sports Arena since resigning suddenly from the Clippers last spring.

Beyond that, he can't really tell you where he's going.


Larry Brown's first coaching job--at Davidson--doesn't appear in his record.

It couldn't.

He quit before the first game.

"It's true," Walsh says, laughing.

"First of all, he was taking over a team that, the year before had been a great team. They were all coming back, plus they were adding a guy coming off their freshman team averaging 30 points a game. Larry was like a shoo-in to get into the Eastern regionals.

"He called me up, he asked me about the team, I told him, 'Hey, you've got a great team. You can't miss.'

"And he called me about two weeks later and told me, 'I'm quitting.'

"He said, 'They didn't change the carpet in my office.'

"I said, 'Larry, you're out of your . . . mind! You'll never get another college job again!'

"Obviously, I was wrong."


Larry Brown, perhaps the most psychoanalyzed man in the history of sports journalism, is not particularly introspective.

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