Collected Wisdom: Former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown

Dale Brown talks about meeting Mother Teresa, coaching Shaquille O'Neal and building a fan base at LSU.
by John Helsley Published: March 31, 2012

I never had any (coaching) heritage, but I always felt confident I could do it if I got a break. I think Joe Dean's recommendation gave me the break.

I met with Joe Dean and he said, ‘Let me tell you what you've gotten yourself into. There's no interest in basketball. There was fleeting moments of greatness when Pete Maravich was here, but they haven't won in a long time. You're going to have to sweep the floor, sing the national anthem and probably keep score or something.'

At first, I thought he was being facetious. Well, he was pretty close to that.

The first practice I ever had, October 15, 1972. I go down to the gym, the baskets weren't down, there was lint on the floor. The managers, trainers and us coaches had to put the baskets down, Windex them and sweep the floor. They forgot practice started.

It was really the bastion of racism. They only had one black player, they had just integrated. Other schools had integrated more fully. The Louisiana black basketball players didn't even want to visit. It was a hard sell.

There just wasn't any interest, so I thought I had to create that with certain events and entertainment. The first thing I did was buy some purple and gold nets from a company in Korea. I think I bought 1,000 of them. I put a little business card in there and a schedule. We were going on our drive, we called it the Tiger Safari, “We're on a mission to make LSU basketball good.'

(My assistants and I) got in our cars, went different directions in the state. Three different cars. Anytime we saw a goal in the yard, we'd get out, introduce ourselves and give them a purple and gold net, a poem, this business card and our schedule.

It took time. They hadn't won a conference championship in 25 years. They'd been to one Final Four. They hadn't beaten Kentucky at Kentucky, and the average loss was 25 points a game.

(When we finally had success) it was a feeling of gratitude, a wanting to really repay what they gave me. That was a good marriage, 25 years. That doesn't happen much.

It wasn't easy, but it was fun. I wouldn't have gotten the job if it had been easy. I'm sure not very many people wanted the job.

It was a fun run, the good and the bad.

I met Shaquille when he was 13 years old. He's very unique. He's one of the most benevolent, kind, sensitive guys. He looks like he has the strength of King Kong, but really he's Bambi. He's lovable. He's for the underdog. Loves children. He'll do the nicest things without telling anybody.

During the period of Communism, the U.S. Military sent over 90,000 troops and placed them on the East German border. They reached me and wanted to know if I would go work in southern Germany and work my way up to northern Germany. I was at my last place, finish my lecture, I get a tap on my shoulder and turn around and here's a giant of a man, 6-9, 250.

He said, ‘Coach Brown, I've been trying out for the team here and I can't dunk the ball. I run up and down the court three or four times and my lower extremities tire. Can you show me some exercises?' I told him sure. About 10 minutes later I asked him, ‘How long have you been in the service?' A big old smile came across his face and he said, ‘Coach Brown, I'm not in the service, I'm only 13 years old.'

The NCAA for years has legislated against human dignity and practiced monumental hypocrisy.

Frank Deford, the great writer, described them perfectly. They're the largest legal cartel in the world.

I fought them for years because of the way they legislate. They've come a million miles, but they have five light years to go. It's amazing that they've gotten away with what they've gotten away with.

My final years at LSU, it's what happens when you lose players, they go early to the pros. We lost two players to knee surgery. Suspensions. It didn't go like you wish it would.

But I find out in life, adversity only visits the strong. It stays forever with the weak. We have to make a decision whether we're going to be strong or we're going to be weak.

You've got to take the good with the bad, that's life. I count my blessings, being able to stay in one place for 25 years.

by John Helsley
OSU Reporter Sr.
John Helsley grew up in Del City, reading all the newspapers and sports magazines he could get his hands on. And Saturday afternoons, when the Major League Game of the Week was on, he'd keep a scorecard for the game. So the sports appeal was was...
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