Separating fact from fiction during Roger Brown's rookie year with the Pacers is almost impossible to do. What is surely known though is when Roger Brown walked onto the court at the Indianapolis State Fair Coliseum, he left the jam-packed sold out crowds practically in awe. Brown was selected as an All-Star and was Second-Team All ABA, leading the Pacers with 19.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. The Pacers finished with a 38-40 record during their inaugural season, and were swept out of the post-season by the Pittsburgh Pipers.
The following season in 1968-69, the Pacers landed two key acquisitions that would push the franchise from being a middle of the pack squad, to becoming a full-fledged dynasty. The addition of future two-time Most Valuable Player in center Mel Daniels and the most winningest coach in ABA history (387-270) Mel Daniels along with Brown led the Pacers to the ABA Finals five times.
From 1969-1973, the Indiana Pacers were the Boston Celtics of the ABA. Check that. From 1969-1973, the Boston Celtics were the Indiana Pacers of the NBA.
"There was not just one memory, there were several memories. I mean Mel and I would just look at each other, isolate Roger on the side, and Roger would tell us 'Hey don't leave me by myself, but get open'. He was one that he didn't like to take the glory for everything, but we looked at Roger to do so. We put a lot of weight on him, and he accepted it. He was a guy that you never could imagine. He was one of the best basketball players ever." - Freddie Lewis, Pacers Guard and Three-Time ABA Champion
Slick Leonard took over the team as head coach after the team had started off with a 2-9 record, and the Pacers struggled to find an identity as their record dipped to 5-20. Then on one faithful night in Minnesota against the Pipers (there was a trend that franchises not named the Indiana Pacers ended up in new cities each season), during a time in which it was rumored the Pacers were going to trade a struggling Brown to the opposition, the Pacers trailed 133-132 with just seconds left in overtime. That is when Leonard drew up the play that Daniels later proclaimed was from there on out known as "Get Brown the ball and go drink a beer", as the Pacers cleared the top of the key to let Brown work his one-on-one moves.
Brown sunk the shot at the buzzer, and all of a sudden the Pacers were a force to be reckoned with. Indiana went 29-14 down the stretch before losing to the Oakland Oaks 4-1 in their first ABA Finals appearance, but Brown's ability as a clutch player only grew from that point on though. Brown averaged 27 points per game in the post-season and officially became the Pacers' closer, with the Coliseum chanting "Roger, Roger, Roger" as the Pacers handed him the ball with just seconds to go on the clock. More than often, those fans would go home happy with a Roger Brown memory to pass on to their grandchildren.
The most impressive stat from that season on though, or at least unofficial stat, is that Brown supposedly dislocated eight ankles while performing a cross-overs on various players.
"He probably had one of the best first steps in basketball. You've got to understand basketball to know what I'm saying when you say first step. Matter of fact, I elarned that from him when I played against Roger Brown. He used to pivot and mae you move and he isn't going anwhere. It was probably one of the best moves that I picked up, and when I went to the guard spot it really helped to take my game to the next level." - Four-time NBA Scoring Champion and Legend George Gervin
In 1969-70 Brown had his most memorable year, averaging 23 points per game along with 7.4 rebounds, but it was what he did after the Pacers 59-25 regular season that left all players and celebrities like in awe.
"The best one was when he hit the last shot that he hit against the LA Stars when they won the championship game. Bill Cosby was sitting on the front row of the Coliseum in Anaheim, and he had a popcorn box that he just threw up into the air because Roger had like 45 points. And Bill Cosby game into the locker room after and said 'I want to meet Roger Brown', and we were standing there just thinking that is Bill Cobsy. That is pretty cool stuff." Robin Miller, ABA Pacers Beat Writer
Brown finished that series dropping 53, 39, and 45 points (including seven three-pointers) to become the ABA Playoffs Most Valuable Player, leading Pacers to their first ABA Championship by defeating the Stars 4-2.
Indiana would continue to win two more championships with Brown on the squad, with one last memorable series coming against the New York Nets in the 1972 ABA Championship. The Nets squad was led by Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry, who went back and forth with Brown all series long, averaging 30.8 points per game throughout the series. However with the Pacers up 3-2 after an exciting 100-99 victory in game five, Brown led the Pacers with 32 points to clinch the series with a 108-105 victory.
"Boy, I can't tell you how good this guy was. To tell you how good, Rick Barry, who was a great player for the San Francisco Warriors, had jumped over to the ABA. This was in his prime, and he played for the New York Nets. That second championship, we played them in the championship series. Somehow Barry ended up coming up sick and we won the series, but I remember Brown put a number on him. And the world saw that, or at least the people who did get to see it, realized what an incredible talent he was. Brown had the prettiest jump shot in the world, he was a great player." - George McGinnis, Pacers Forward and Two-time ABA Champion as well as 1975 MVP
The Pacers won the 1973 NBA Finals in seven games over the Kentucky Colonels win three times in four years, but at that point Brown's body had begun to break own. Along with his aching knees he suffered a back injury as well, and finished his Pacers career two years later as the Pacers' all-time leading scorer in the ABA with 10,058 points.
Those are the facts, or at least the known facts, about Pacers legend Roger Brown.
After retiring Brown served a four-year stint as a Republican on the Indianapolis City Council, became a deputy coroner, a part owner of a grocery store owner of six race horses with Mel Daniels, and served as an assistant coach with the team. When he was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1996, he took part in fund-raisers across the city of Indianapolis before passing in March of 1997.
With the induction of Mel Daniels into the 2012 Class of the Basketball Hall of Fame, many ABA Indiana Pacers are now pushing for their late-game hero to be one of the next inducted. With an average 17.4 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, and three championships over his career, it's almost hard to argue against his case.
"I don't even know how to explain how good this guy was. This guy should have been in the Hall of Fame a long, long time ago. That guys is Roger Brown. And when we go to the New York Knicks (1971-72 season) Bill Bradley, who is in the Hall of Fame, a Senator, and all that kind of stuff, he made some comments about the city of Indianapolis and about the ABA. That night Roger said let me have him Slick, and Roger hit him with 27 in the first half. So if Bill Bradley is in the Hall of Fame, we sure know that Roger should be there." - Slick Leonard, Three-time ABA Champion and Winningest Head Coach in ABA History
Perhaps if the voters weren't too distracted by current NBA players dunking on their phones, they could open their eyes to realize how great Brown truly was 40 years ago.
After all, most of us didn't get the chance to watch his greatness once already, it would be a shame if we now missed our chance to honor it.
Special thanks to Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, RememberTheABA.com, Basketball-Reference.com, and the book Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association for various facts and quotes about the ABA, along with the Indiana Pacers for allowing the various ABA Champion Indiana Pacers to be interviewed.
Pacers Playoffs Notebook: Remembering ABA Legend Roger Brown
Considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of the league and perhaps the best athlete to don the Pacers uniform, Roger Brown's mythical stature lives on not through TwitVid or descriptions in 140 characters, but from archived articles of the past, aging books, and the memories of his teammates that shake their heads at how good Brown really was.
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