November 26, 2004

Grizzlies Coach Retires for Health Reasons

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Hubie Brown said he stepped down as the coach of the Memphis Grizzlies for two reasons: He lost his spirit, and because of medical issues he wants kept private.

"I need on a daily basis an energy and a stamina, and then with me it's a spirit," the 71-year-old Brown said Friday at a news conference. "But the key is spirit. See, the spirit is what gives you the passion on a daily basis.

"One day you wake up, you don't have that, and that's when you've got to understand that it's a time you've got to walk."

The oldest coach in the NBA announced his retirement Thursday night, just seven months after he was selected NBA Coach of the Year for the second time in his long career.

Brown led Memphis to a franchise-best 50-32 record last season and its first playoff appearance. He was given medical clearance to return for his third season with the Grizzlies and had said he had no hesitation coming back.

But he announced his retirement a day after the Grizzlies fell to 5-7 with a 93-84 loss to the Seattle SuperSonics. Brown is 424-495 in the NBA and 528-559 including ABA games.

"We're going to miss this man tremendously, and more importantly, I think his footprints here ... will be hard to fill," Grizzlies president Jerry West said.

Lionel Hollins was named the team's interim coach and was with the team in Minneapolis for its game Friday night against the Timberwolves.

Brown said his medical problem developed about three weeks ago.

"People are thinking catastrophic levels. ... We're not talking about that," Brown said, declining to be more specific. "I've had things come up that your body gives you a warning sign."

Brown, who led the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA championship in 1975, returned to coaching in 2002 after a 16-year break during which he became a TV analyst. He also coached the Atlanta Hawks from 1976-81 and the New York Knicks from 1982-86.

At every stop, Brown's teams won more games in his first full season than in the previous year.

Brown leaves as the winningest coach in Memphis history with an 83-85 record.

His news conference lasted 50 minutes as Brown praised the fans, West and his players. He told his team of his decision before they left for Minnesota.

"I told them you have regrets when you do this. My biggest regret is that I didn't meet them when I was in my 40s and 50s because I had more to give than I do now because I was more alert, more astute, more observant and I saw more," Brown said, "and I apologized to them because I met them too late in my life."

This season hasn't been near as easy as last for Memphis, which lost its first four games with James Posey, Pau Gasol and most recently Stromile Swift.

The Grizzlies had some friction earlier this season when Jason Williams started yelling at Brown and his son and assistant coach, Brendan Brown, during the third quarter of a loss to the Mavericks in Dallas on Nov. 7. Williams did not return to the game.

Asked if that contributed to any stress, Brown quickly dismissed that as an issue. He said he never postponed discipline or problems, so he dealt with Williams immediately after the game in the locker room before talking with media. Williams later apologized.

West had been talking with Brown about his decision over the past three weeks and he hopes that Brown will continue to have some role with the Grizzlies, calling the coach a "walking encyclopedia." But West said he is exploring the possibility of a different coach than Hollins.

"He could be our coach for a few games. We might have someone else, or he might be our coach for the year," West said.

Brown's departure could affect West's own future role with the Grizzlies. West said he had hoped Brown would stick around for another year and called his retirement "not a good day for me."

"I don't even really want to get into what my future is going to be," West said.