Israel may be the only country where Herb Brown is just as well known as his famous younger brother, Detroit Pistons' coach Larry. This week 69-year-old Herb Brown arrived in Israel, where he once again will be head coach of the U.S. men's basketball team at the 17th Maccabiah.
Israeli basketball fans have fond memories of Brown since 1975, when he coached the Israel Sabras to the championship of the short-lived, European Professional Basketball League.
Brown also coached the U.S. squad to a bronze medal in the 1997 Maccabiah, but arguably his greatest achievement came four years later before the 2001 games. It was during the height of the intifada, and three weeks before the Maccabiah opened. Larry Shyatt, coach of the men's squad, resigned because of security concern and immediately after, more then half of the team's members pulled out as well.
At the time, Brown was serving as an assistant to Larry with the Philadelphia 76ers. A long-time Israel supporter, Brown received a frantic call from U.S. Maccabiah officials, only a day after the Sixers last game in a losing effort against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Brown accepted the dual task of saving the team as well as coaching it.
After that Brown spent 24 hours a day relentlessly trying to persuade players that Israel was an experience they shouldn't miss and reassuring anxious parents. Eventually, six members of the original squad made the trip, joined by several last minute replacements. In the short time that Brown had to work with them, they meshed well enough to win the gold medal.
Today Brown recalls that period as "one of the best times in my life." In an interview with Haaretz, Brown noted. "Just to put an American team together with everything that was going on was a breathtaking experience."
No such drama accompanies this year's American squad. Brown has only one player (Ben Jacobson) with international experience, and wasn't involved in the selection of this year's team. Brown offered no predictions since he hasn't seen the other teams other then, "I'm sure we'll be competitive."
Herb Brown has been coaching for 45 years and is currently in the first year of a four season contract, as an assistant coach with the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.
Larry and Herb Brown have a close relationship. Their professional careers have for the most part been independent of one another except on two occasions. Herb was Larry's assistant last season during the Pistons' championship season as well as with the Sixers in 2001. Both times, Herb moved onto another job the following season.
Brother Larry has been the head coach of seven different NBA teams and has the reputation of a man whose professional career is perpetually in motion. However, this is nothing compared to Herb, whose coaching career has literally taken him around the globe. Their father Milton was a traveling salesman, so moving around is a family trait for the Browns.
Aside from coaching the Sabras, Herb Brown was also head coach of the Pistons during the 1976-7 season. He has been an assistant coach with eight NBA teams and coached in the International Basketball League, the Western Basketball Association and the Continental Basketball Association.
Brown's other international experience includes 15 seasons in the Puerto Rican Summer League, six seasons in the Spanish League and in his own personal version of "Basketball Coaches Without Borders," a stint as visiting head coach of the Pakistani National Team in 1972.
In all his travels, Israel clearly remains one of his favorite places. "This is the 10th time that I've been here," says Brown. "Every visit is totally enjoyable and there is always something new to see."
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