LAS VEGAS -- If he wanted to go that route, Dee Brown could have looked to his left, spotted Deron Williams sitting courtside, and let the jealousy fill him up.
They were in the same backcourt at Illinois four years ago, and Brown had top billing on the marquee. Now, on the last day of the NBA Summer League here, Brown was on the court trying to make a favorable impression on the Washington Wizards executives up in the stands, while Williams was relaxing, his future secured days after signing a contract extension with the Utah Jazz that reportedly will pay him at least $50 million and up to $70 million if he stays for the full term. Brown has only a partially guaranteed contract from the Wizards that assures him of $100,000 and will bring him $450,000 if he sticks with the team.
Envious? No. The day Williams signed his extension, Brown was texting and calling him starting at 7 a.m.
"He might have been a little bit more excited than I was," Williams said.
Last summer, Brown had to leave the country to play pro basketball; this summer, Williams will be representing his country at the Olympics. Team USA will practice in Las Vegas this week, so circumstances happened to bring these wildly divergent life arcs back to the same place again.
It would be natural for Brown to be bitter, to believe he should be the one living large. How couldn't he? At one time the accolades belonged to Brown. Check the Sports Illustrated archives for the March 7, 2005, edition and you'll find Brown on the cover, labeled "The No. 1 attraction in college hoops."
He was first-team All-Big Ten, a finalist for the John Wooden award. The Man.
After Illinois lost to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship game, Williams went to the pros and Brown stuck around for another year. It didn't exactly help his draft stock. The Utah Jazz selected Brown in the second round, at No. 46 overall. This was after they picked Williams at No. 3 the year before.
It's a phenomenon I call getting "Scolaried," after the divergent careers of Peter Scolari and Tom Hanks after they did "Bosom Buddies" together.
Even though Williams always envisioned becoming a successful NBA player, he still finds the role reversal with his buddy to be a little strange.
"In college he was the recognizable face, everybody knew him," Williams said. "And it has changed since then."
That isn't Brown's view. From his perspective, why would he feel left out?
"Everybody's got their own path in life," he said. "Everybody. I'm still doing it for a living."
You might not get to choose your path. But you can choose how you will travel along it. For his journey, Brown packed the smile that made him so popular at Illinois, as well as a determination to make the most out of whatever opportunities came his way.
"It's basketball man," Brown said. "It's the life I chose. Nobody chose it for me. I'm not proving to anyone. I just live life, love basketball, and this is what I do
"I'm going to enjoy the game, never take the game for granted, be smiling.
And I'm going to win. Everywhere I've went, if you look at my track record, I don't lose."
True enough. He played in the national championship at Illinois, the Western Conference finals in his first NBA season, and the final four of the ULEB Cup in Europe this past season.
"He's a great locker room guy," Williams said. "Everybody on our team loved him. Great energy guy.
"He can score. I think he's gotten away from that, a little too much. In college, we needed him to score. [In the pros] I think he got caught up with people telling him he needs to run the team. I think he needs to be Dee Brown. He can score. There's room for point guards like that."
While we spoke at halftime of the Wizards' game against Phoenix on Sunday afternoon, Brown came by to give Williams a little dap and a quick hug. Williams reminded him to take better care of the ball.
"I'm working on that," Brown said.
They have a relationship that Williams called brotherly.
"I talk to him all the time," Williams said. "I'm hoping for him, praying for him that he gets a chance to stick in this league. I think he deserves a spot and I think he'll earn a spot."
The Wizards like the way Brown played for them in Las Vegas (highlighted by a late tip-in that sent their game against Houston into overtime on Saturday night) and they think he will be able to provide depth to a point guard rotation that includes Gilbert Arenas and Antonio Daniels. Maybe he can find a home in the NBA after heading overseas for a year.
Brown did OK as Williams' backup in Utah. And people forget that the reason Derek Fisher had the opportunity to make that dramatic shot in the playoffs after a cross-country flight following his daughter's eye surgery is because Brown played so well after Williams got into foul trouble that game. But the Jazz signed Jason Hart and Ronnie Price to guaranteed contracts last summer and Brown was squeezed out. He wound up signing with Galatasaray Cafe Crown in Turkey. He feels better off for it, having seen a different part of the world and overcome the challenge of playing with teammates who couldn't speak English.
Brown's agent, Henry Thomas, believes having to go overseas can add a little humility and hunger to a player. It's apparently made Brown better equipped for the latest task.
"It's another challenge, another obstacle, you go out there and do it," Brown said. "Make sure you go out there and do it with all your heart. And that's what I do.
"At the end of the day, I've got my college degree. I'm playing among the best every time I step on the court, and I'm a pro. No matter where I'm at, I'm going to be a winner, I'm going to be happy, smiling, playing the game I love. That's all you can ask for."
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.