Never Forgetting Kwame Brown; When Charles Oakley Was His Spokesman
Most of us saw where Kobe Bryant took time to rip Kwame Brown during a guest lecture to a college class at the University of California-Santa Barbara the other day, video embedded above and linked here if you missed it. In calling out the transgressions of inglorious bastard teammates Brown and Smush Parker, Bryant took pause to mention that he would say the same thing to the faces of both players; this after eliciting chuckles from the class en masse by mere mention of Brown’s name. Surely Kobe realizes that every comment he makes, every action, is susceptible to fast dissemination amongst the Internets. He knew Kwame would hear his dig.
People are always ready to rip Kwame, myself included. Almost as readily, people blame Michael Jordan or Doug Collins for all that went wrong with him at the onset of his career with the Washington Wizards as the NBA’s 2001 No. 1 overall draft pick. Both men have admitted that they would’ve handled the 18-year old differently, Collins at various times even admitting that their scouting was duped by Kwame’s accelerated physique and confident persona in a pre-draft workout where he bested, and beasted, high school contemporary Tyson Chandler. Jordan, now majority owner of the Bobcats, attempted to swallow his mistakes last summer by reuniting with Kwame in Charlotte.
Others have blamed the burden of a child basketball prodigy entering the league during the indisputable height of the corrupt AAU basketball scene. Kwame was the poster child for the one-and-done college rule, and he likely would have been exposed as a later-round selection had he gone to the University of Florida to play with the likes of Udonis Haslem, Matt Bonner and David Lee. An example of Brown’s insight in April 2001 before officially deciding to turn pro (via the Sun-Sentinel.com):
In the pros, you’re going to gain money and popularity. I think if you work hard, eventually you’ll get off the bench. In college you’re going to get there and get fame and notoriety. It’s the same thing, it’s just without the money.
Hardly, young Kwame, hardly.
Some might credit his country upbringing in an impoverished southern community lacking opportunity for African-Americans. With a mother who had to work hard to feed several kids by herself, some components of Kwame’s childhood development can’t have been that attended to. Kwame is, after all, the same guy who piled up new suits next to his bed after wearing them instead of taking them to the cleaners (courtesy of a Sally Jenkins profile for the Washington Post in April 2002); one might expect a 13-year old of just about any background to know better, much less Kwame. He might be the most simple, complicated-to-digest player to ever don a Wizards uniform.
In breaking down where various current Wizards stand for ESPN.com’s #NBArank project for the Washingtonian’s Capital Comment Blog, friend of this blog, Jack Kogod (@Unsilent) jokingly included the rank of Brown (No. 304), most recently of the Charlotte Bobcats. For good measure, Kogod simply wrote “Never forget,” under Kwame’s name, and linked those words to Michael Lee’s blog post about Kobe’s unflattering comments about Kwame on the Washington Post’s website, which included Lee’s own part of the Kwame-Kobe story.
I might have made a similar joke as Kogod, maybe even the same one. In fact, I have… made many a joke about Brown. Shots fired at Kwame is nothing new for just about anyone with an association with the Wizards, but why? And will it always be that way? Will we really never forget?
I’m inclined to say no, or is it yes? I’m completely asking too many rhetorical questions. It’s easy to contemplate and rehash the history of a franchise, especially during the lockout. But for some reason, in this instance, I’m left wondering if Kwame (and such stories regarding him) will continue to be worth our time every now and then; or if he will always be a relevant blemish on Wizards team history, one whom we will never forget because we can’t.
Maybe I feel bad for Kwame. Maybe I don’t care.
Attention is paid to many former Washington pro basketball team members, making Brown no exception, and usually when less than admirable things happen, those such as myself pay their respects with pixels, gladly giggling at Kwame’s past expense. But then I wonder what we are all laughing at, and if it’s even necessary.
The retelling of past absurdities ideally teaches lessons for future prevention, at least that’s what we like to believe. But the kids never learn, do they? There will be another Kwame Brown, perhaps not a No. 1 overall draft pick and likely not directly from high school to the NBA, but there will be another.
So I guess we’ll keep remembering, or never forgetting. Laughter may not always be the best medicine, sometimes simply shaking your head will do.
As Kogod wrote to me over Google Chat, “He’ll always be a Wizard in some tragic way.” And when it comes to tragedies, we should never forget.
So there was that one time Charles Oakley was Kwame Brown’s spokesman, too bad he wasn’t in the room when Kobe was talking. But one must also wonder if “Oak” would still come to Kwame’s defense.
The scene takes place on April 16, 2003, before the Wizards played a road game against the Philadelphia 76ers in what would be Michael Jordan’s last NBA game. On April 14, after the Wizards, already eliminated from playoff contention, lost their home finale against the New York Knicks, Doug Collins in his post game press conference suggested that one player had cursed at him and showed him no respect during the season. Collins, according to reports, then insinuated that the actions of that one player spread to other players. Those comments still reverberated amongst the players two days later before playing the 76ers.
An excerpt from When Nothing Else Matters, a 2004 book by the Washington Post’s Michael Leahy about Jordan’s last comeback with the Wizards:
In the visitors’ locker room, Charles Oakley anointed himself spokesman for Kwame Brown, commonly regarded as Collins’s target when the coach lashed out at an unnamed Wizard supposedly responsible for sparking a season’s worth of problems. The players knew that Stackhouse had erupted at Collins long before Brown’s explosion, and were tired of what they regarded as Collins’s attempts to find scapegoats. “If a number of [morale] problems had been corrected from the beginning,” Oakley said, “it wouldn’t have lasted a whole eighty-two games. . . . Doug felt something. [But] if you don’t strengthen out the issue, then it’s going to be a disease, like when that disease spread in China and Toronto. I think Doug should’ve taken responsibility right there and then. . . . I’m gonna say it.”
Now and then, Brown grinned and said, “Get ‘em, Oak.”
At 39, playing in his final game, Oakley reemphasized that he regretted his Washington experience. “If I knew all this would happen, I never would have signed here. . . . I didn’t want to go out this way. I didn’t want to see Michael go out like this. It’s just a bad time. . . . When you get Michael and Jerry Stackhouse and you don’t make the playoffs, something’s wrong, and you gotta make changes.” He thought about the implications of his words. “I don’t know where,” he added.
“Get ‘em Oak,” Brown repeated from a distance, chuckling.
When somebody tried asking Brown a question about Collins or Jordan, Oakley interrupted.
“I’m his spokesman,” Oakley said. “He said I’m his spokesman.”
Brown giggled, nodded.
Music: DC’s Oddisee…
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