The Lakers fired Mike Brown just five games into the season and replaced him this week with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach Mike D’ Antoni. The Lakers brass picked D’Antoni over Phil Jackson his and his 11 championship rings.
Black coaches not afforded the patience of white colleagues
The heated debate of the abrupt termination of the second Black coach in Lakers history will be replaced this week with rhetoric about the stunning hiring of former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks coach, Mike D’Antoni, over the legendary Phil Jackson.
Mike Brown lasted just five games into the 2012-’13 season for the storied Lakers franchise and became the first casualty of a team expected to contend for the NBA title.
Brown, hired during the strike shortened season of 2011-’12, led the Lakers to first place in the Pacific Division with a 41-25 record before being bounced in five games of the Western Conference Semifinals by the Oklahoma Thunder.
During the off season, the team traded young emerging center Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia and acquired superstar post man Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic.
Subsequently, the team concluded a meaningless winless preseason going 0-8 and began the regular season 1-4.
Brown was one of 14 Black head coaches in the NBA, a league dominated by African American players and when fired after just five games became the quickest termination to begin a season in the history of sport.
There have been coaches who have resigned in shorter spans such as Billy Donovan of the Magic, when he returned to the University of Florida after five days before ever coaching a game, but the quick hook of Brown brought criticism from varied circles of the NBA.
Most Lakers fans, including Hall of Fame icon Magic Johnson were unrelenting in supporting the firing of Brown.
However, one of Brown’s former superstar players was not in agreement that Brown should have been fired.
“I think it’s unfortunate,” LeBron James said. “I just don’t think he got a fair shake, honestly. With the shortened season last year, and five games into this year, he didn’t really get a full season.”
Which begs an even larger question. Are Black coaches afforded the same level of patience as their white colleagues?
Now, I will be the first to admit that the hiring of Brown to begin with was a major surprise because I personally felt the Lakers would never hire a Black coach.
When Magic Johnson took over the reins it was largely because of his stature in the organization and relationship with owner Dr. Jerry Buss but after an unsuccessful short stint –he resigned.
Brown’s claim to fame was coaching James and leading the Cavs to the NBA Finals, but even Cleveland fired him in an attempt to retain James during his free agent departure.
He replaced Jackson who retired after the 2010-’11 campaign. It was largely believed the Lakers would retain highly regarded assistant Brian Shaw or lure former Lakers star Byron Scott to the post, both men of color.
Instead, to the dismay of many, Jim Buss hired Brown.
It was believed then that if Brown did not soon return the Lakers to their championship status, that he would be gone. He operated on a four-year $18 million deal.
He lasted less than a full a season. No team either wins or loses an NBA title in the first five games of the season, not even the first five weeks.
Black coaches across the coaching landscape either inherit the most difficult situation or one in which it is impossible to succeed.
Frequently, their contracts are fairly inadequate such as former Crenshaw High star Kevin Ollie, who was recently named head men’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut, whose contract is for just seven months.
During his final season Jackson didn’t fare any better than Brown. In fact the Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers in embarrassing fashion. Brown’s Lakers lost to the Thunder in five games.
So, did the Lakers brass feel that Brown was a better coach than Jackson and should have led them to the NBA title? If not, then why did the Lakers hire Brown to begin with?
Now, that the team has miffed its legendary coach Jackson by turning to D’Antoni, will it fire him if the team does not win an NBA championship this season? D’Antoni has never coached a team past the conference finals.
Scott, now in Cleveland took the New Jersey Nets to two NBA Finals and was let go in favor of Lawrence Frank, but the Nets never made it past the Conference Semifinals with almost the same team.
Frank lasted seven seasons with the Nets before being fired after a 0-16 start in 2009, and is now the head coach for the hapless Detroit Pistons. Scott has the daunted task of rebuilding Cleveland after James.
A recent survey of the top 10 coaches in the NBA revealed that Boston’s Doc Rivers was ranked second behind the Spurs Gregg Popovich and Mike Brown was ranked fourth. The only other Black in the top 10 was Nate McMillan at number eight.
So, did Mike Brown forget how to coach that fast?
It will be interesting to follow the Lakers soap opera over the next few months to see how much patience they have with D’Antoni who quit his last job in New York.
Ironically, Black coach Mike Woodson replaced him and currently has the Knicks in first place and are among the hottest teams in the league with a blowout win over defending NBA champion Miami on their resume.