NEW YORK -- Last stop: Madison Square Garden.
That's the way it was for Larry Brown as a youngster taking the
subway to Knicks games, and that's the way he hopes it will be in
his newest job.
Brown was formally introduced Thursday as the new head coach of the New York Knicks, the team he grew up cheering for and the franchise he has helped made significant again.
"I think I say that everywhere I've been," Brown said with a
laugh. "I know this will be my last stop. Basketball started for
me in this city, and I want to be here when it's finally time for
me to stop."
The Knicks pulled out all the stops for Brown's introductory news conference, flashing "Welcome Back, Larry" on the marquee outside the arena, putting together a clip of Brown's career highlights -- even finding footage of him sinking a two-handed set shot -- and serving cheesecake and New York-style overstuffed sandwiches to a crowd of media members that numbered in the hundreds.
Brown's wife and children sat in the front row near Herb Williams, who will join Brown's staff as an assistant coach and who Brown said would run the team in the event his health problems force him to miss any time.
Brown's contract was believed to be for four years with a salary of at least $8 million annually. Had Brown turned down the job, the Knicks would have given it to Williams after he guided the team over the final 43 games last season.
"My greatest hope is that we're going to be good for a long
time, and he (Williams) is going to be the next coach of the New
York Knicks," Brown said.
His face tanned after more than a week of playing golf near his summer home, his appearance perfect in a dark suit, light blue shirt and gray tie, Brown called himself "a young 64" as he soaked up the spotlight, waxed nostalgic and tried to keep expectations in line with reality.
The Knicks are coming off a 33-win season in which they missed the playoffs for the third time in four years, and team president Isiah Thomas has placed the team in a long-term rebuilding mode that will make it difficult for Brown to perform the type of quick turnaround he has become known for.
Brown said he would emphasize defense, rebounding and unselfishness from the first day of training camp, and he predicted he'll drive Thomas "crazy" with his requests for personnel changes as his tenure unfolds.
"It's going to be ugly early, I can promise you that. That's been my m.o., but it's going to get better," Brown said.
Thomas will retain final say on personnel moves, but Brown will wield all the influence regarding who plays, how much they play, and whether those players will remain in New York long-term.
The Knicks' current roster is overstocked with undersized power forwards and trigger-happy shooting guards, and the team's one star -- point guard Stephon Marbury -- will be asked to change from the shoot-first, pass-second scorer he's been for nine NBA seasons into the type of playmaker and offensive initiator that Chauncey Billups became in Detroit.
The adjustments made by Billups helped the Pistons reach the NBA Finals the past two seasons, and the degree of acceptance that Marbury shows will go a long way toward determining whether he'll
be a long-term part of the Knicks' pursuit of ending the franchise's 32-year championship drought.
"I don't think by any means, from talking to Isiah, that this
is a finished product," Brown said. "This is a work in
The Knicks will be Brown's eighth NBA coaching job in a career (not including college jobs at Kansas and UCLA) that has taken him to Detroit, Philadelphia, Indiana, Los Angeles, San Antonio, New Jersey and Denver.
This chapter will be different, however, because of the fondness Brown has felt for the Knicks since he was growing up in Brooklyn
and Long Beach, N.Y.
Brown recalled taking the train into Manhattan and stopping afterward at bars where the players would congregate after games, remembering how odd it was to see opposing players fraternize.
He also recalled the admiration he felt for former Knicks coaches Joe Lapchick and Red Holzman, saying the first thing he often did when he came into the Garden with opposing teams was to look up to the rafters to see a banner with the number "613," representing the number of Holzman's career coaching victories.
Brown's affinity for New York basketball is part of his love of the game, a feeling nurtured through the competitiveness he learned on the city's asphalt courts.
"I grew up on a playground where if you lost, you went to the back of the line and wouldn't play for a while. And if you took a bad shot, one of the bigger guys would crack you," Brown said.
Brown will try to transfer that passion to his newest team, and the players who don't buy into his program will be the ones exiled to a life somewhere other than at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks' hierarchy is fed up with the mediocrity and malaise that has enveloped the franchise for nearly a half-decade. The hiring of Brown sent a message to their fans that the man guiding the team harbors the same yearning for success as the diehards clad in orange and blue sitting in the stands.
"Coming into the Garden and getting a Nathan's hot dog and a Nedick's soft drink and getting off the subway and walking into that concourse was an unbelievable thrill," Brown said. "I still feel the same every time I walk into the Garden. It's an experience that I don't take for granted."