Kwame Brown back with Michael Jordan, both in different places
The best thing about the reunion of Michael Jordan and Kwame Brown with the Charlotte Bobcats is that both men are in completely different places right now. Jordan isn't trying to scratch a final itch while proving to his boss that he has what it takes to be both a spectacular player and executive. Brown isn't a teenager weighed down from expectations to deliver as a franchise savior.
Jordan no longer has to worry about his boss, because he is the boss. Brown doesn't have to worry about expectations because he has been, for lack of a better word, a bust. Well, bust may not be fair, because Brown was placed in a position unlike any other high school player before him. Plucked by the Washington Wizards straight from rural Georgia in 2001, Brown was asked to rescue a moribund franchise -- while being teammates with the man regarded as the best to ever play the game (a man who regularly belittled him after once serving as a mentor). During my first year covering the Wizards, Brown told me, "It's not my fault they picked me number one."
No, it was not. Jordan's decision to draft Brown first overall has haunted both individuals -- and the Wizards -- for the past nine years. But the Wizards really didn't know what they were getting in Brown, who dominated his foes on the high school level with his quickness and size, then was asked to immediately replicate that success against grown men.
Brown was asked to be a pioneer when he didn't have the talent or mental strength to withstand all that was being thrust upon him. LeBron James and Dwight Howard, the other players to go No. 1 directly out of high school, were much more well prepared (Full disclosure: When I worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I covered Brown when he was in high school. He honestly didn't consider entering the NBA until March of that year. James and Howard spent their entire senior seasons thinking about and getting ready for the next level).
Looking back, the 2001 NBA draft is filled with players who didn't amount to much, with Tyson Chandler having a decent but undistinguished career and Eddy Curry fading into obscurity well before his $68 million contract expires this season. Pau Gasol went third that year, but even his future success wasn't obvious.
There really is no reason to rehash all of the infamous blowups between Brown, Jordan and former coach Doug Collins during their two seasons together. People in Washington are well aware that it couldn't have been much uglier -- with Jordan and Collins abusing Brown psychologically and perhaps stunting his development and passion for the game. That well-documented history made Brown's comments yesterday in Charlotte rather amusing.
"I think a lot of people speculate about my relationship with Michael. But obviously I'm here, so it can't be as bad as you guys think," Brown told reporters in Charlotte. "It didn't work out the way I wanted it to in Washington, but I'm excited about another chance to come out and turn this thing around."
But Brown won't turn around his career. He'll never be the player Jordan thought he could be when Brown destroyed Chandler in the classic pre-draft workout that solidified his number one spot. Deep down, Brown realizes this. But while he hasn't emerged as a superstar or even a serviceable starter, it is rather startling that he will enter his 10th season this fall -- and he's just 28.
And while his career has been underwhelming, Brown has had an influence on the league. His inability to cope with the pressures of the NBA helped lead to the establishment of the age minimum. The Wizards made three playoff appearances after dealing Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler. And, where would the Lakers -- or Kobe Bryant, for that matter -- be without having Brown's expiring contract ready to swap for Gasol?
When Brown was traded for Butler in 2005, he said that it was too early to call him a bust because he was only 23 at the time. Five years later, who knew that Brown had already played his best basketball?
He had some okay years in Los Angeles, where he will most be remembered for throwing cake at Ronny Turiaf, but he has been an afterthought since he was dealt to Memphis for Gasol. He averaged 3.3 points and 3.7 rebounds last season in Detroit and doesn't even get booed as loudly at Verizon Center any more.
In Charlotte, Brown is merely being asked to be a big body; to simply clog the paint and rebound. He's also making just $1.3 million, which is almost a third of what he made as a rookie. So, this isn't exactly a second, third or fifth chance, it's an opportunity for Brown to extend his career. If he plays big minutes, great. If he starts, wow. If he continues to do what he's been doing, okay.
Jordan approved his arrival because neither side has anything to lose this time. Jordan's reputation is not on the line. Brown has accepted what his career has become. They are in different places now. Better places. No better time for a reunion.
"We're always going to be linked. I might as well come here, right?" Brown said. "Now, I'm a grown man and I know a lot of the things I've done wrong and with maturity I can handle it a little bit differently."
August 25, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
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