Can We Please Stop Prematurely Condemning Mike Brown?

You know what makes America great? Well, besides all the hot dogs, interstate highways and freedom. That very important line in the Constitution that declares you’re considered innocent until proven guilty. That’s a pretty important sentence if you think about it. It’s what separates us from the animals. And Canada. Anyways, the point here is that the group of individuals that drafted the greatest document of law in the history of our species felt it was important never to rush to judgement without first letting the legal process play out.

Unfortunately, this mentality hasn’t translated to the world of professional athletics quite yet. In today’s reactionary world fans demand change before even seeing the entire story play out. They feel they know more than the men and women who are actually paid to make some of these decisions, which in most cases is simply untrue.

So why the rant on the Constitution and such? It’s simple, really. Mike Brown.

Brown was hired to be the head coach of the Lakers following the most recent retirement of former boss Phil Jackson. It was a rather unpopular choice when announced, and I have no problem openly admitting that I was one of the pundits who brazenly questioned the decision to hire Brown. But now that he’s in there, can we at least wait and see what happens before prematurely throwing him onto the scrap heap of failed coaches?

Recent rumors of Jackson wanting to return to the NBA, particularly the Lakers, aren’t surprising. Just look at this team’s roster and it won’t take a decade of higher education to see why anybody would be foaming at the mouth to lead this squad. Plus, in Jackson’s case, he’s been a master at picking his spots and stepping into situations that gave him a high probability of winning once he was able to implement a few tweaks and imprint his championship formula. But in the end that’s not the case here. The question should not be, does Phil Jackson want to coach this Lakers team. In fact, there should be no question at all.

Mike Brown is the coach of this team.

Can’t we at least give him an opportunity to fail on his own before trying to replace him? Brown may not have the resume that Jackson does, but then again nobody does. People are so quick to dismiss something that doesn’t offer immediate satisfaction. As a society we’re all convinced that something that worked previously can’t miss in the present. It’s the same reason I still see fans clamoring for the return of Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown. Sure they were nice pieces on championship teams, but were they really the difference between early post-season exits and title celebrations? No. But it’s something that worked in the past, and we’re all determined to convince ourselves, and others, that if it worked once it can work again.

Now this isn’t supposed to be a condemnation of Jackson. I honestly believe he can still coach at a high level and could be a good fit with this Lakers squad. But why are we so convinced that Brown won’t be? He’s had some difficulties in the past, but nobody comes into the league as a proven champion. Everybody starts at the bottom and has to establish themselves and build their reputation. Don’t dismiss Brown simply because he hasn’t had that opportunity yet.

I want you to consider a few names for a moment.

  • Bill Belichick (3-time Super Bowl champion)
  • Joe Torre (4-time World Series champion)
  • Mitch Kupchak (4-time NBA Finals champion as GM)

What do these three names have in common? Well, other than the gaggle of championship rings, two of these men (Torre, Belichick) were fired from previous head coaching jobs in their respective leagues, and the other (Kupchak) was thrown under the bus by fans and even his star player because of a belief that he was incapable of achieving the ultimate prize. All three have since silenced their critics, and all three will be in their league’s Hall of Fame one day.

Since we’re talking about the Lakers, though, let’s focus in a little more on Kupchak. After taking over for the legendary Jerry West in 2000, Kupchak seemed doomed to fail from the beginning. After the super-team he assembled imploded in 2004, he became known as the GM who traded away one of the most dominant big men in the history of the game. Just three years later he had Kobe Bryant, who all but ran the show in Los Angeles, demanding he be replaced or else Bryant would leave town. (Spoiler alert: neither of those things happened.)

The point is, fans and players alike had declared Kupchak dead weight. They wanted someone else. Mainly, they wanted the guy (West) who had done it before.

Now? Kupchak is widely considered the best GM in the league, maybe in professional sports, and is a shoe in for the Hall of Fame. This was all possible because management believed in him and gave him the opportunity to succeed despite growing resentment amongst fans and players. At one point he was an unproven commodity, but has since turned himself into the guy that turns the impossible into reality. And if you asked anybody right now if you could have Kupchak or the field run your NBA franchise, the results would be very one-sided.

So back to Mike Brown. His resume isn’t oozing Larry O’Brien trophies like Jackson’s, but that doesn’t mean he can’t reach that level. He’s had some trouble at previous coaching stops (Cleveland, mainly), but so did Torre and Belichick, both of whom ended up winning multiple titles when given the right opportunity with the right team. There’s no definitive reason why Brown can’t accomplish that either.

I’ll leave you with one more example, as it relates a little closer to Brown’s situation. In 2008 the Miami Heat hired a 30-something year-old, unproven video analyst as their head coach. Two seasons later they acquired the two biggest free agents in the league, including the best player on the planet in LeBron James. Their first year they struggled to find chemistry and work together. Fans and media members were calling for his job, asking for Pat Riley to return (again, someone who had had previous success in that city), basically declaring Spoelstra incapable of winning a championship. They said he didn’t have what it takes.

Just one season later Spoelstra had led his team to the NBA Finals again, and walked home with the title.

All I ask is that we grant the same courtesy to Brown before declaring him inadequate. There are still questions to answer and hurdles to overcome for Brown and his staff, but let’s give them a chance to prove us wrong before trying to convince others we’re right.

After all, there was a point in time when Phil Jackson was an unproven coach faced with questions and uncertainty.

Remember, innocent until proven guilty.

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