The young man who was once a 'future NBA superstar' is now the epitome of an NBA 'bust'. The player who the NBA was in awe for one off season at the least, is now often the butt of jokes.
The path that Kwame Brown has taken is as follows.
Kwame Brown was born March 10, 1982 in Charleston, South Carolina to Joyce and Willie Brown. When Kwame was a child he would endure the physical and psychological abuse his father, Willie, would put his family through.
"He would tell us," says Kwame, "'I gave my life to the devil.' We couldn't say anything about God, about church—nothing. He would pick up whatever he could find and beat you or spank you. The next day he would come home from work with a gift for you. I don't know why. I guess that was how he would try to buy your friendship."
Joyce tried to leave Willie, she says, "almost every year. I'd get away, and he'd get me right back." She would flee to Brunswick, and he would come after her, and tell her, "These are my children. They belong to me. You might leave, but you aren't taking them."
When Kwame was 7 years old, Willie Brown was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole. In search of a new beginning, Joyce Brown, Kwame, and her seven other children moved to the small town of Brunswick, Ga.
In his early teen years, Kwame was a full foot shorter at 5'11, flaunting the nickname 'Bobo'. He often hung out at Howard Coffin Park, right across the street from the Days Inn his mother, Joyce, worked at before injuries forced her to go on disability. Then playing point guard, he possessed superior quickness and ball-handling skills that would later help him earn the luxury of going straight from high school to the NBA.
Kwame then attended Glynn Academy High School. There he received national attention for his size, outstanding athletic abilities, and stand-out performances. Brown led his team to an 81-21 record from 1997-2000. His senior year Brown averaged 20.1 points, 13.3 rebounds, 5.8 blocked shots, 3.0 assists, and 2.0 steals and was honored as Georgia's Player of the Year. Also in his senior season, he was named to the McDonald's All-American squad, joining future NBA colleagues David Lee, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, TJ Ford, DeSagana Diop, and Josh Childress. He is still to this day, the school's all-time leading rebounder with total of 1,235 rebounds and the school's all-time leading shot-blocker with 605 blocks. He's also the school's second all-time leader in scoring.
"He's got the potential to be a special player," said Eric Musselman, then assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, recently the former Sacramento Kings head coach. "He has a great combination of strength and speed. You can see he will able to play multiple positions. He's got a pro body, and he was impressive in interviews. For his age, he is extremely mature."
Kwame molded himself into the player executives would dream about. He said the right things, did the right things, and acted in the right manner.
Outside of basketball; however, Kwame was an immature, troubled teen in need of guidance. Local Pastor John Williams, or as Kwame calls him, 'Mr. John', mentored Kwame Brown throughout high school. Reverend Williams was the father figure Kwame needed and that he had lacked during his childhood. Williams emphasized the need to do well in school and as a result Brown made the honor roll the last four semesters of his high school career. "I don't treat Kwame any different from any other kids I mentor, and he can't fire me, because he never hired me," Minister Williams said, "Our relationship is based on telling each other the truth."
Nearing graduation, Kwame Brown decided to leave a University of Florida scholarship behind and declare for the 2001 NBA draft. The basketball world was eager to let the 6'11, 250-pound Kwame in.
In the following weeks, Kwame flirted with the possibility of being the 1st overall pick. In a particular workout with the Wizards, Kwame Brown left an impression upon NBA legend Michael Jordan by outplaying another highly-ranked high school prospect, Tyson Chandler. To his idol, Michael Jordan, he vowed, "If you draft me first, I'll never disappoint you."
Jordan was intrigued by Brown's confidence, 'maturity', and potential. Also impressed by Brown's promise, Jordan decided to take a chance on Kwame. Passively, Jordan commented "we have to try to make sure that this kid has a chance to mature as a person not just as a basketball player."
Finally, draft day came and the announcement came... "With the 1st pick of the 2001 NBA draft the Washington Wizards select Kwame Brown out of Glynn Academy High School."
Brown was the first high school player ever selected 1st overall. The mere title was an honor to Brown. An honor with some added pressure.
"I guess I just made history," said the 19-year-old Brown. "It's great. I've never been so overwhelmed and nervous in my life. I'm now the representative of all high school seniors, and I have to show it wasn't a mistake."
The next week, Brunswick held a 'Kwame Brown Day ceremony'. He was presented with a proclamation from the City Commission. Mayor Pro Tem Doris Atkinson Davis handed over a key to the city.
"Please touch me," she told Kwame Brown, as her granddaughter had requested.
Kwame Brown was a class act. He impressed the crowd with his humor, and poise. Parents would admire him as he advised the children to stay in school and work hard.
Referencing his own mentor, John Williams, he urged youth to find a true mentor to guide their lives.
"You've got to find somebody that's true ... not out for what they can get," Brown said. "It takes people like that in your life."
The media, the fans, the Wizards, the sport, set expectations so high...so high. Chosen by the man acclimated as the greatest basketball player ever, Kwame had expectations that no other player had ever experienced in their entry to the NBA.
In the street, Bullets' fans were asking Brown to be the savior of their team. At the grocery store, fans would observe as Kwame would sift through the several brands of cereal... they would await as to what his choice would be. Regis Philbin invited Kwame to his show, as an eager audience would await in awe.
And thus number 5 snatched his multi-million-dollar contract.
Once the season commenced, Kwame was ready to suit up and play the forward position for the Washington Wizards. Before the season kicked off, Michael Jordan offered a word of advice: ''All eyes will be on you, but just have fun. Play like you know how to play.''
Throughout Kwame's run in Washington the Wizards brought in a number of mentors. His rookie season, veterans Popeye Jones and Duane Ferrell were given the assignment. Then through a couple of seasons, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley were brought in to mentor the young forward. The most significant; however, was his relationship with Michael Jordan.
Jordan built a comfortable relationship with Kwame as a mentor on and off the court. In a sense, Jordan became a friend of Kwame. When asked about his relationship with his airness, Kwame responded, "I'm sorry but I have to say, I hate all these people asking me about Michael Jordan -- 'What's Michael like, what's it like to play with Michael?' " he said. "I mean, he's not Jesus Christ, he's just a regular dude."
Kwame went on to say that Jordan would also offer encouragement.
''When I got a little discouraged, he said: 'Keep your head up. Don't lose confidence. Remember, this is a marathon, it's not a race.' I've got a lot to learn, and I'm looking forward to trying to learn it.''
The perfect prospect had made it's way to the perfect situation in Washington. The sky was the limit, winning was the goal, and patience was the key. To the Wizards though, the psychological aspects of this mission were not taken into consideration. The young man's effort was not clear, and the Wizards had plans the kid was naively unaware of.
Somewhere down the line, Kwame's relationship with Michael Jordan drastically changed. As Jordan made his second return to professional basketball, Jordan's patience and attitude with the younger players on the squad changed. During practice sessions, Jordan started embarrassing them more on the court, stopped helping them up off the floor when they fell. He started taunting Kwame. He stressed the importance of work ethic, urged the young player to work hard. Of course, he did it in his own manner.
As the season progressed, coach Doug Collins realized the Wizards' plans were not realistic. This young kid, straight out of high school, was not ready to be the cornerstone of a franchise. Soon they realized they hadn't done all of their homework, instead the short-sighted management became enamored with the kid's imposing physical frame and remarkable athleticism. While Jordan had claimed he understood the job at hand, I don't think he realized the importance of the process and the difficulty. But hey, the team still had a job to do... and that was to prepare this high-schooler to become a dominating force in the NBA.
Since being drafted, Brown gained 20 pounds credited to the strenuous weight training program the Wizards had implemented. The added bulk would not translate into improved basketball skills on the floor; however, as Kwame only averaged 4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and only 14 minutes per game his rookie season.
The media was quick to label Brown a bust, even this early in his career. There were concerns about his maturity and his work ethic already. The frustration was becoming evident.
"I know God wouldn't have given me all this pressure and attention if I couldn't handle it, but sometimes I second-guess him, say 'What are you doing, man?' Then I think about Michael," he says. "He's been through all of this, but a hundred times. Hopefully, he'll show me the way."
At the end of the season, Kwame would go on to describe his rookie year as 'public humiliation'.
"There's a part of me that questions, when your confidence drops like mine did, are you a good ballplayer and do you deserve to be here, or what?" he says. "You're just scared. Scared to do anything."
The media is harsh, that's a given. Throughout his rookie season and thereafter; however, the man Kwame idolized struck Kwame with a barrage of verbal abuse. In one particular instance, during a scrimmage, Kwame was complaining about fellow veterans Christian Laettner and Jaihidi White being a little too agressive. Jordan, apparently not amused, walked toward the rookie. "You f-cking flaming f-ggot," Jordan exclaimed. "You don't get a foul call on a g-ddamn little touch foul, you f-cking f-ggot. You don't bring that f-ggoty shit here. Get your g-ddamn ass back on the floor and play. I don't want to hear that f-cking sh-t out of you again. Get your ass back and play, you f-ggot."
One has to believe that brought back old memories. Later, Kwame recalled the incident. "It was pretty rough," he says, "But that's Michael Jordan. You deal with it. You learn you're a rookie and you're not going to get calls.... But sometimes I felt all alone out there, like I was surrounded by sharks."
In some ways, Jordan took on the traits Kwame's father, Willie Brown, had expressed. One moment, he would attack him. Attack him. The next, with the smallest of gestures, with the bits of advice, he would try to comfort Brown.
The 2002-2003 season showed flashes of hope for Kwame Brown. Yet despite increased playing time, he only averaged 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Still, Brown continued to show off some solid performances. He recorded a total of five double-doubles and had career highs both in rebounds and points.
His third season (2003-2004), he continued to improve. As Jordan made his final retirement, Brown began to feel less pressure. Although his work ethic and commitment was still questionable, he had career year in both points (10.9 ppg) and rebounds (7.4 rpg). Brown also recorded career highs, scoring 30 points and snatching 19 rebounds against the Sacramento Kings.
The 04-05 season was the turning point in Kwame Brown's career. Kwame rejected a five-year, 30 million contract offer by the Wizards, instead electing to become a free agent after his rookie contract expired. His season was less than stellar, playing only 42 out of 82 games due to a serious knee injury and only averaging 7 ppg and 5 rpg. He not only had trouble on the floor, reports indicated he had feuds on the sidelines with new coach Eddie Jordan, and future all-star Gilbert Arenas. As the Wizards made the playoffs for the first time since the '96 season, Kwame Brown seemed disinterested. As a result of misconduct, Kwame Brown was suspended for the entire post season.
During the '05 offseason, in a move that would later be cherished by Washington fans, the Los Angeles Lakers traded Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown and LaRon Profit.
The following season, Kwame did nothing to prove critics wrong, as he averaged a mere 6 ppg/6rpg his first season as a Laker. On his first game back in Washington, the crowd showed no remorse, and Brown was booed throughout the game. After the game, Brown stated that "they should be cheering that I'm gone."
For the 2nd half of the season, Chris Mihm would go down to injury leaving Kwame Brown to jump onto the starting five. He would go on to average 12 ppg, 9 rpg, maintaining an integral role in the playoffs.
During the Lakers' first round playoff series, Kwame was accused of sexual assault. To the relief of Laker fans, charges were later dropped.
The next season, Kwame was out with an injury for the beginning of the season and veteran center Chris Mihm was still out with an injury, leaving the inexperienced Andrew Bynum to take over the starting position. The next couple of seasons, critics would continue to call Kwame an 'under-achiever' and knock on his poor ball-handling skills. Even the Lakers coach, Phil Jackson, would join in.
“We’re going to feed him Butterfingers on the flight home just so he can feel the effects of it. There was certainly some disappointment in the ability, or non-ability, of Kwame to complete plays that we thought were big plays for us. His teammates are disappointed. He just has to accept the fact that the next time he gets that chance, he doesn’t [fumble].”
On January 13, 2007 the 'cake incident' occurred. Kwame was accused of throwing a cake at a man. Out celebrating Laker teammate Ronny Turiaf's birthday, Kwame asked Ronny to pose with him in a photograph. The cake-owner later caught up with Brown and Brown threw the cake at the man. Later, Kwame explained that he had thought the cake was Turiaf's and his intent was to throw it at Turiaf. He was not prosecuted, and to compensate the incident, he bought the gentleman dinner.
As claims Phil, Kwame became the team joker. In one instance, reporters recall Kwame shooting 3's with the guards instead of practicing on his post moves, as Phil Jackson had ordered. As opposed to his earlier teams, in this younger team he seemed to fit right in.
The fans, they weren't too helpful. After the promising Andrew Bynum went down to injury, Kwame Brown again took over the starting center position, to the dismay of Laker fans. Spoiled Laker fans booed Brown's performance in one particular game against the Suns, where his teammates kept feeding him the ball after unsuccessful field goal attempts.
Phil Jackson explained.
"I think that there's always performance pressure on a guy who has been looked at as the first pick in the draft and has not fulfilled that," coach Jackson said. "Those things, I'm sure, weigh. Those are things that we want him to get over. ... That happened, that's done."
Later that year, Kwame would again have a run-in with the law. His cousin was caught by police driving on the opposite path of a one-way street. Brown tried to explain that the car was his but he was not in the car during the incident. Though as a result of his aggressiveness, he was charged with disorderly conduct and interfering with police investigation.
Nearing the trade deadline last season, Kwame was traded in a blockbuster deal that would land the LA Lakers former all-star Pau Gasol. Stephen A. Smith would mock 'Kwa-mey' Brown as being the center piece of the deal.
The Grizzlies have already decided not to re-sign Kwame Brown this offseason, so he's off as a free agent. To the player that has been heckled more times than any other basketball player in the history of Western Civilization I say this... Thank the game, Kwame.
Sources: Leahy, Michael. (2004) When Nothing Else Matters, New York. Simon & Schuster