By John Helsley
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As I studied the photo of Shaquille O’Neal and Travis Ford in our paper Wednesday morning, a triangle came into view.
Last week, I interviewed former LSU coach Dale Brown for our Sunday Collected Wisdom – and it’s an all-time great one, read it here – and both Shaq and Ford were subjects of our conversation.
Brown, of course, discovered Shaq, who was a struggling 13-year-old hoops wannabe (albeit a 6-foot-9 wannabe) on a military base inGermanywhen he approached the coach in search suggestions on how to get in shape and be a better athlete.
On the spot, Brown, who was there to lift the spirits of troops, gave the young Shaq a few suggestions and promised to mail a videotape with more instruction when he returned to Baton Rouge.
I’ll let Brown tell it from here:
“We communicated back and forth and about eight weeks after that I got a letter from him and it said, ‘Coach Brown, I did everything you told me to do but my high school coach cut me off the team. He said I was too slow, too clumsy, I have too big of feet. I could never be a basketball player. What should I do?’
“I sat down, wondered what kind of profound statement I could make to a young man who just had his heart broken. I thought, ‘I’ll tell him about my life.’ So, ‘Dear Shaq, I’m real sorry what happened to you. But I found out in my life, every time I failed, felt inferior, somebody told me I couldn’t do something, I was heartbroken, I found something that worked for me and I think it’ll work for you. If you sincerely, always, try to do your very best, you never give up and persevere, sooner or later God will take care of everything else.’”
As we all know now, Shaq went to work. And became one of basketball’s all-time greats. The path, too, went through Brown and LSU, thanks to a friendship struck by chance inGermany.
“I wrote to him on a weekly basis and it was a natural thing that he come here,” Brown said. “And I’m really glad, because I love him like a son.”
As for Brown’s relationship with Ford, they were thrown together, along with Shaq, in the summer of 1990 at the Olympic Festival inMinneapolis. Brown coached a South team that featured both Shaq and Ford to the championship.
“Travis Ford scored the winning basket to win the gold medal for us,” Brown said. “Good solid little player.”
Brown, still very much on top of things while running a nonprofit organization and keeping himself highly involved in motivational speaking and charity work, asked about the down years for both OSU and OU.
He noted that he thought both Ford and Sooners coach Lon Kruger were “good coaches and good men.”
And Brown offered a suggestion of patience for fans at both schools, complete with a bit of history.
“Had John Wooden been coaching now, he probably would have been fired. Because he was at UCLA 13 years before he made his first Final Four appearance. And the rest was history from there on.”
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