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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU’s powers that be and want to be, who are often the problem at LSU, should have done this about 25 years ago.
But better late and finally smart than never and always stupid.
The LSU basketball court in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center was named “Dale Brown Court” on Tuesday night after the former LSU coach, who retired 25 years ago this spring. The ceremony took place just before the No. 21 Tigers (12-1, 0-1 SEC) hosted No. 16 Kentucky (11-2, 1-0 SEC) in a 7 p.m. eastern tip-off on ESPN.
Brown, 86, was on hand along with his family and many former players, including Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was All-American guard Chris Jackson at LSU from 1988-90 and reminded folks of the late, great Pete Maravich.
Shaquille O’Neal planned to come but declined to stay home because of COVID-19, but he left a video message played on the video screen at the arena.
“Love you, Coach Brown,” he said.
“I didn’t campaign for this, but I appreciate what people have done to make this happen,” Brown said before the ceremony. “My goals were to build LSU into a national power and to help young men improve their lives. Now I get to use one of the most powerful phrases in the English language: Thank you.”
Brown, who was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014, tended to rankle feathers among LSU’s powers that were and wanted to be when he was LSU’s coach from 1972-97. That likely delayed this night. That and the fact that his program was put on NCAA probation for recruiting rules violations not long after his retirement.
Looking back on that, though, what his program was found guilty of at the end of 25 years was extremely minor compared to the voluminous allegations the NCAA will soon rule upon regarding current coach Will Wade.
“We’ve had 10 years to talk about this, and the reason we’ve talked about it for 10 years was because some folk didn’t want to do it,” said Collis Temple Jr., who played on Brown’s first teams from 1972-74 and is an LSU Board of Supervisors member now. “He changed the trajectory of the state of Louisiana and the mindset of all the stereotypical negativity.”
Brown also made a losing program a consistent national player and an NCAA Tournament regular from 1979 through 1993 with Final Four appearances in 1981 and ’86 and elite eight finishes in 1980 and ’87.
Through cinematic and gutsy scheduling along with the winning, he also made it cool to go to LSU basketball games for the first time since Maravich became an icon at LSU from 1967-70.
The program Brown inherited from Maravich’s father, Press Maravich, was 10-16 overall and 6-12 in the SEC in the 1971-72 season.
In Brown’s very first game as LSU’s coach on Dec. 5, 1972, his Tigers, who would be nicknamed the “Hustlers,” upset No. 11 Memphis State 94-81 in what was then called the Assembly Center. His team also beat No. 6 Alabama 72-70 at home that season and finished 14-10 and 9-9.
There were three straight losing seasons after that before Brown’s recruiting prowess shifted into warp speed with the signings of guard Jordy Hutlberg from New Orleans, forward Rudy Macklin of Louisville, forward DeWayne Scales from Dallas, forward/center Greg Cook from Newark, New Jersey, guard Willie Sims from Long Island, New York, guard Howard Carter from Baton Rouge and forward Leonard Mitchell from St. Martinville, Louisiana,
LSU went 15-12 and 8-10 in 1976-77, 18-9 and 12-6 in 1977-78, and broke through in 1978-79 at 23-6 and 14-4 in the league for its SEC title since 1953-54 with center Bob Pettit. The program’s first postseason tournament followed since Maravich took the Tigers to the NIT in 1969-70 with a 22-10 and 13-5 finish. LSU lost in the first round to eventual national champion Michigan and guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson. But LSU was on its way.
LSU advanced to the Midwest Regional final in Houston before losing to the eventual champion again in Louisville. The Tigers then had the best season in school history in 1980-81 at 31-5 with the SEC title at 17-1. Eventual national champion Indiana defeated the Tigers in the first round of the Final Four, 67-49.
But 1980-81 was a magical season, particularly considering the fact that the New Orleans Saints went 1-15 in 1980.
The Assembly Center, which opened the year before Brown’s arrival, was called “The House That Pete Built,” rightfully so, until it was named after Maravich shortly after his death on Jan. 5, 1988, of a rare heart defect at the age of 40.
The Assembly Center could have also been called “The House That Dale Lit Up.” The arena was regularly filled or close to it and nicknamed the “Deaf Dome” for its crowd noise by ESPN’s Dick Vitale.
On any given day at LSU in the early 1990s, television trucks from the major networks or a limo would be parked outside the arena. Bill Walton dropped by to work with Shaq. One day, Dr. J – Julius Erving – visited. Brown’s rolodex was as legendary as his press conferences.
Spike Lee attended the LSU-UNLV basketball game in the early afternoon of Jan. 28, 1990. He was already in New Orleans for the weekend with Super Bowl XXIV there at the Superdome that evening. That’s what you call cinematic scheduling.
Lee watched No. 16 LSU beat the No. 5 Runnin’ Rebels 107-105 on ABC in a classic as Jackson scored 35, including 26 of LSU’s 58 in the first half. And this was one day after LSU beat Florida 70-52 in the same building. Who schedules like that?
Dale Brown, that’s who, because he didn’t want to let an SEC game interrupt his national scheduling philosophy that helped him routinely fill the Assembly Center like no one has before him or since.
UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian watched that LSU-Florida game right behind press row. About two months later, his team destroyed Duke 103-73 to win the national championship.
Three days after LSU’s win over UNLV, the Tigers beat Ole Miss 79-77, then defeated No. 20 Loyola Marymount with Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble 148-141 in overtime in the Assembly Center on CBS on Feb. 3 in another memorable classic. That was three games in seven days.
Ah, the way Brown scheduled. He scheduled like he was bored. He also somehow talked Tarkanian, who was quite a talker himself, into playing at LSU two years in a row. LSU beat UNLV 88-87 on a buzzer beater by Rickey Blanton in 1989.
Brown scheduled a home-and-home series with Duke in the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons. He lost both games, but as usual, he had LSU in the limelight as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won his first two national titles in 1991 and ’92.
LSU never won a national championship under Brown, but it was clearly one of the “It” programs as it was on national television as much as the Dukes and Kentuckys and reached 10 straight NCAA Tournaments from 1984-93.
LSU did manage to schedule Brown’s court naming correctly. It is fitting that his night comes against Kentucky, which he thoroughly aggravated during his time at LSU, particularly from 1978 through 1992. Brown was 6-2 against the Wildcats from 1978 through 1981 with two SEC regular season championships in 1979 and ’81 and the SEC Tournament title in 1980.
LSU was never 6-2 against Kentucky and has not been since. Brown was also 8-5 against Kentucky from late 1986 through early 1992. And before Brown’s arrival, LSU had exactly two wins over the Wildcats from 1933 through 1972.
At the NCAA Southeast Regional in Atlanta in 1986, No. 3 Kentucky was on its way to another Final Four and had beaten LSU three times that season when the two played in the regional title game. LSU won 59-57 to take Brown to his second Final Four.
Kentucky did erase a 31-point deficit at LSU and 99-95 in 1994, but Brown still owns one of the worst beatings of Kentucky ever – 76-41 at Rupp Arena on Jan. 18, 1987. It remains the Wildcats’ worst home loss since 48-10 to Cincinnati in 1926.
In one of the most memorable nights in a building about to be named after him, Brown’s Tigers had all five of their starters foul out on Feb. 11, 1978, and still beat Kentucky 95-94 in overtime. Kentucky would go on to win the national championship.
“Thank you to the people of Louisiana who have always allowed me to enjoy such a special relationship with both LSU and the state that I have loved for so long,” Brown said.
A native of Minot, North Dakota, Brown has never left Baton Rouge since leaving his assistant coaching job at Washington State in 1972 to come to LSU.
“Thank you to the parents who entrusted me with their sons,” Brown said. “Thank you to my players and assistant coaches and support staff. Thank you to LSU fans everywhere. You have given me the honor of a lifetime.”
Thank you, Dale Brown.