Brown Sugar

There's a story about Suns rookie Gerald Brown that has reached legendary proportions. His parents, Gerald Sr. and Wendelene, believe the incident helped make their son a man. His coach at Carl Hayden High, Argie Rhymes, thinks it made his guard a better player. His friend and high school teammate Antrone Gray just smiles at the memory.

No, it wasn't the time he poured in 29 points and had seven boards to lead Carl Hayden to victory in the state championship game. Or the time he badly sprained his ankle against Brophy and still led his team to a win in the next game.

It was when his parents made him come home from practice to wash the dishes.
"It was playoff time, but I didn't care," says Wendelene. "It was to prove a point."

Like all legends, years and exaggeration have clouded the details. When Brown tells the story, it was the floor that needed mopping. Regardless of the chore, the message is clear.

"I was supposed to mop the floor before I went to school," says Brown. "But you know how teenagers are, they think they're slick. So I snuck out without doing it."

Gerald Sr. was thrilled that his son was a basketball phenom. Not many parents can say that their boy is Arizona's best basketball player. But that doesn't get the floor mopped and the dishes done.

"You can't help feeling on cloud nine when you're that good," says Gerald Sr. "But he'd have to hit the door if he started acting like he didn't have to do his chores."

As Gerald remembers it, his father called him at practice and simply said, "Get home, right now."

"Gerald was steaming mad," recalls coach Rhymes. "I told him his obligations at home are part of growing up. So he went home, washed the dishes and cleaned the house. The best part is, he came right back to catch the end of practice. That's the kind of kid he is."

Brown went on to lead Carl Hayden to the state title, finishing with a 29-1 record, still the best in school history. He became a standout player at Pepperdine University and graduated last spring with a degree in sociology. He wasn't selected in the NBA draft, but played well enough in a pro summer league to get signed by the Phoenix Suns.

None of that has gone to his head.
"When you get called home to mop the kitchen, it keeps your ego in check," says Brown.

In a way, it's not so surprising that Gerald Brown made the Phoenix Suns roster. Local boy makes good. It's great public relations, not unlike the wisdom of making Horacio Llamas the first Mexican on an NBA roster.

Brown is a Suns kind of guy--strait-laced, hardworking, unselfish, even a little bland when compared with the Rodmans and Iversons of the league.

His ego is, indeed, in check. Good thing, because this season would be unbearable if it weren't.

Since a Suns victory over the Houston Rockets on March 14 in which Brown logged 48 minutes of PT--pine time--Brown's minutes on the court have been consistently sparse. Suns coach Danny Ainge has been giving Brown five to 10 minutes a game to spell Jason Kidd, and he's starting to trust his rookie point guard with the rock.

"I wish we had a full camp and exhibition season to give him time to develop," says Ainge. "It's difficult for any player to play five or six minutes a game and get into the flow. But I love Gerald Brown--his work habits, who he is, his potential."

Pat Garrity has shown flashes of becoming the next Tom Chambers, and Toby Bailey's got more hops than Gordon Biersch. Unlike his fellow rookies, Brown hasn't had the playing time or starts to make much of an impact on the floor.

Part of the reason Brown's minutes are so rare is that he's backing up the best point guard in the league. Kidd's triple-doubling his way into MVP contention. The athletically challenged Suns need his relentless slashing on the floor until Kidd's lungs wheeze for mercy. But it's a good sign when a future Olympian sees potential in his young back-up.

"Gerald is going to be a good player," says Kidd. "It's going to take some time for him to learn how to run the offense and when to shoot the ball. We push each other hard in practice. I want him to learn so when it's time for him to come in the game, there's no letdown."

Brown doesn't pout about his lack of playing time. He truly is just "happy to be here"--an athlete who grows up to realize the dream of playing on the hometown pro club. If he isn't on the court, Brown stays busy cheering on his team and studying how the game is supposed to be played.

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Matthew Doig