one worked harder longer than Scott Brooks. It was just that personal standard.”
The gym rat and the longtime coach quickly developed a bond. Stricker was forever on the lookout for kids who had needs, and he sensed that Brooks needed something.
Stricker helped him get to practices and games, tournaments and camps. He provided transportation, entry fees and whatever else Brooks might need.
But more than anything, Stricker believed in Brooks.
The point guard with the floppy blond hair caught Jim Lynam’s eye.
Almost two decades have passed since that day, but the man who was then the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers remembers it well. He was watching an exhibition set to promote the Goodwill Games. A combined team of American and Russian players was pitted against Brooks and a bunch of other free-agent hopefuls.
"This kid ... ,” Lynam thought as he watched Brooks, "he’s efficient.”
Brooks wasn’t flashy, but he knocked down every open shot, seized every opportunity and made few mistakes. Even though he bounced around during his college career, going from TCU to a California junior college to UC-Irvine, he was successful at every stop. He averaged nearly 24 points a game as a senior.
Lynam convinced the Sixers to invite Brooks to training camp.
It was like a fairy tale for Brooks. Even though he grew up in California, he had become a Sixers fan. He loved Doctor J. He loved everything about Philadelphia, really.
"Just make it to the first game,” he told himself, "so I can keep the jersey.”
Brooks was a long shot, made even longer by the fact he had to play against All-Star point guard Maurice Cheeks.
"But he’s playing Cheeks eyeball to eyeball for five straight days,” said Lynam, now an assistant with the Sixers.
Still, Brooks was gone as soon as the Sixers had to make their first cuts. Truth is, Lynam wanted to keep Brooks, but he knew he couldn’t fight a war over a little-known, free-agent point guard.
"They cut me right before the first exhibition game,” Brooks said, "but I was able to keep my practice
He ended up with the Albany Patroons in the CBA. After making the all-rookie team in 1988, everyone in the NBA wanted to give him a look, including the Sixers.
He not only made it to the first game but also made the team.
That was the first of 11 seasons in the NBA, and while he was always a reserve for the seven different teams on which he played, he still holds the league record for consecutive seasons with more steals than turnovers (1988-93).
"He had that quality of determination and putting it all out on the court that I just loved as a coach,” said Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached Brooks during Houston’s 1994 NBA championship season. "I think he’ll have that same kind of work ethic with his job.”
He already has.
Once his playing days were done, Brooks spent the next few years coaching in the ABA. There, being the coach means taping the ankles, driving the vans, passing out the Southwest Airline vouchers. Occasionally, it even meant telling the players that they had no per diem because the team had no money.
"It was a mess,” Brooks said.
"We loved it. As a team ... we kind of embraced that mentality that nobody wants us. We were doing it just because we loved the game and wanted to get better and wanted the opportunity to make it to the big time.”
That’s what Brooks wanted. He wanted to be an NBA coach. He wanted to coach the game he loved at the highest level.
He didn’t want it like this.
Brooks hates that P.J. Carlesimo’s firing led to his hiring. The Thunder’s abysmal start cost Carlesimo his job after only one victory one month of the season.
"That was always a goal of mine,” he said of becoming a head coach in the NBA. "But this is not the circumstances that I wanted. But it has happened.”
Just like always, he intends to make the most of the situation.
Scott Brooks is already working on it.