Mike Brown's Back in Town: A Cleveland Love Story

One of the more noteworthy takeaways from last month's Cavaliers Youth Fund Golf Classic is this: Recent (and some might say garish) trends in NBA players' wardrobes haven't yet materially affected the tastes or habits of off-court personnel.

The assorted Cavs' PR folks down here at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, for better or worse, look like an intergenerational tennis team. They're outfitted in running shoes and sporty pants, which billow in the wake of Tyler Zeller's Ferris-wheel swings. If not to impress, they're certainly dressed to withstand: the elements, the stress, the movement of both arm and hip flexor at once. But for the time being, they're clumped outside the clubhouse and watching—doting, more like—as Mike Brown fields questions from two youngsters with microphones.

"How early do you go to bed at night?" one of them asks the Cavs' head coach.

"I'm gonna try to go to bed real early this year," Brown reports, and then asks about the kid's bedtime to jazz things up with some tit-for-tat. Brown says he'll try to go to bed, well, a little later than the kid's weekend bedtime, around 11:30.

The kid doesn't like it.

"How about 11:00?" Brown asks. "Can I go to bed at 11?"

The kid says he guesses so, but his heart's not in it.

"10:30?" Brown pleads.

The damn kid's not budging. He even starts to giggle as Brown's mouth goes agape. Can't he intuit how humiliating it is for a grown man to negotiate his schedule with anyone other than his wife?  

This is, of course, dramatized for the cameras. And the media folks are happy-tsking at Brown as if he's Jesus Christ. What they understand first of all is that this guy is great with kids, a genuine sweetheart.

Secondly, but just as forcefully, they understand that Brown's not fooling anybody with his "early-to-bed" routine. This is a man who routinely takes four hours to watch two-hour game tapes, a man who honest-to-God irons his ties, a man who talks Xs and Os with sportswriters in Vegas until breakfast. Mike Brown is a teacher. And like the very best teachers, he doesn't sleep. He just keeps learning.

He looks like a giant right now, seated between these mini interlocutors, but he's still dwarfed by the species-defying Andrew Bynum, who has just arrived nearby, emerging from a golf cart the way a normal-sized man might from a microwave.

Meantime, the girl on Brown's left has eyes only for the coach. Her first question isn't even a question. She just wants to welcome him back to Cleveland.

Brown demands a hug, and she's happy to oblige.

"When I got fired in L.A., my youngest boy said to me: 'Dad are you okay?'" Brown's talking candidly on the Firestone patio later in the afternoon, looking comfy as hell in gray sweats and a navy-blue Cavs' fleece top.

"And I said, 'Yeah, you know, it's not the end of the world. This happens to people all the time. We're obviously in a much better situation than most people, so we've got to feel blessed and thank our lucky stars.' And literally the next thing out of his mouth was 'Does that mean we get to move back to Cleveland?'"

That was November 2012, a month Brown modestly calls a whirlwind. He'd just been shitcanned by the Lakers after only five regular season games into his second season. He'd posted an ugly but very, very early 1-4 record while the roster battled injuries and the utter disembowelment of team chemistry with marquee free agents Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.

But man: Talk about a snap judgement.

Brown had no personal ties to the West Coast, and after talking things over with his wife, he recognized that he and his family actually loved Cleveland—go figure, right? The people, the scenery, the weather. They had a fantastic time here during Brown's first tenure and they intended to return, to make a home here. Brown's older son Elijah, who was hotly pursued by several California colleges as a high school basketball player, re-opened his recruitment and committed to Butler. Brown's younger son Cameron was eager to rejoin his buddies at Westlake High School. It was only a matter of locking down a home before the Browns made their move official.

To make things crystal clear: Mike Brown was moving back to Cleveland whether he got the Cavaliers' head coaching job or not. He was planning to come back long before the position was even on the table. This is where he wanted to be.

As it turns out, he was offered another coaching position—ESPN reported that the offer came from godawful Phoenix—and Brown says his agent assured him of at least two other teams with potential interest, but he turned them down because of the situation in Cleveland.

"Not the situation with the Cavaliers," says Brown. "The situation of coming back."

Most Clevelanders who follow sports with any regularity or tortured sense of purpose know about Brown's credentials, but here's a primer for good measure:

After globetrotting for much of his childhood and graduating from high school in Germany—his dad was in the Air Force—Brown played college hoops in San Diego and shortly thereafter landed an internship with the Denver Nuggets. He became a full-time video guy and worked his way up the organizational ladder as go-getters tend to do.  

"I embraced every opportunity," says Brown. "I never said no to anything."  

He followed his mentor Bernie Bickerstaff (a current assistant in Cleveland) from the Nuggets to the Wizards, was a protege of the legendary Greg Popovich in San Antonio during Tim Duncan's statistical prime in the early aughts, and then coached under Rick Carlisle in Indiana before Dan Gilbert selected him from a mob of candidates all salivating at the prospect of coaching the Cavs, and a blossoming LeBron in 2005.

     "I've probably interviewed thousands of people, Gilbert told Scene in '08 (not all of whom, presumably, were for the Cavs' gig). "Usually, a person doesn't appear to have every tool. [Brown] is one of these guys that literally, you sit down with him, you can feel the integrity, the character, the confidence, the humbleness . . . It just all came."

Brown—ever humble—says he doesn't feel like he was necessarily better than every other candidate when he was first offered the job: He was just extremely organized when he presented his ideas and demonstrated a passion for helping turn the organization around.

Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
Scroll to read more Ohio News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.