The reference points of youth always hold a familiar appeal, and that's particularly true for sports fans. For instance, the starting lineups you recall most easily probably belong to the teams you followed most passionately as a kid. When I first discovered the NBA, Hubie Brown was the head coach of my hometown team, the Atlanta Hawks. The name "Hubie" is like catnip to a 7-year-old kid, and was bestowed upon a large stuffed gorilla who presided over the far corner of my bedroom.
At the time, I had no means to measure Brown's talents as a coach, or even appreciate that he led a team anchored by Dan Roundfield to a Central Division title on the strength of its gritty defense -- beating a far more talented Milwaukee Bucks team coached by Don Nelson. In the spring of 1981, when I read in the Atlanta Constitution that the Hawks had dismissed Brown, my father's explanation was my first understanding of what it meant for a person to be "fired."
I lost track of Brown for a few years, but was reintroduced in the late 1980s when CBS hired him as its lead NBA color commentator. Now as a teenager, I was eager to learn more about the pro game and Brown's insights fed that appetite well into the 1990s after he moved over to TNT.
Several months ago, I was culling YouTube for old broadcasts featuring Brown's commentary and stumbled across a treasure trove of instructional video clips. The segment below, "Setting Screens and Reading the Defense," is my favorite:
There are a hundred little things in this clip that make you smile -- the synth music, Brown's New Jersey cadence, the occasionally awkward cross-signals between Brown and his aides, Brown's insistence that "you have to have a philosophy" when you set a screen. There's plenty of unintentional comedy, but what's most entertaining about the clip is the amount of love Brown exudes for the game.
It's an affection that's present in his broadcasts, and one that can often be mistaken for minutiae. Whether it's an ABC Sunday matinee or an instructional video, Brown is engaged in a constant dialogue with the game. He'll pose a question ("You say why did he curl?"), then breeze into the answer ("He curled because the defender followed him."). Brown doesn't deliver a traditional story the way Vin Scully does, but he's sharing in a classical sense -- he's telling you secrets.