Sequels are common in Hollywood, less so in the NBA. Yet that’s what happened in April 2013. Three years after firing him, the Cleveland Cavaliers hired Mike Brown as their head coach.
Born on March 5, 1970, in Columbus, Ohio, Mike Brown attended high school in Wurzburg, Germany. He played on the University of San Diego’s basketball team with current Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant, who became a close friend. Brown was hired as Cleveland’s head coach in 2005 and compiled a 272-138 record over five seasons. He led the Cavaliers to their only Finals appearance in 2007, and in 2009 he was named Coach of the Year. In terms of winning percentage he became the most successful coach in franchise history.
Of course, the situation isn’t exactly the same as it was in 2005. When Brown arrived in Cleveland the first time, the Cavaliers enjoyed the services of a young superstar named LeBron James. With Brown on the bench and James on the court, the Cavaliers won more than 60 games in both the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. Despite this success, Cleveland never returned to the Finals during Brown’s tenure. After the Boston Celtics defeated the Cavaliers in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals, owner Dan Gilbert fired Brown in an effort to prevent James from leaving as a free agent. James nevertheless signed with the Miami Heat, and the Cavaliers would compile a 64-166 record over the next three seasons.
Brown took a year off from coaching to work for ESPN. In 2011, the Los Angeles Lakers hired him to replace retiring coach Phil Jackson. The Lakers finished with a 41-25 record in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season. After the Lakers began the 2012-13 season by losing four of their first five games, Brown was fired.
Reaction to Brown’s hiring was mixed among Cavaliers fans. Gilbert felt compelled to defend his decision on Twitter shortly after the deal was made official. Brown and Phil Jackson, Gilbert pointed out, are the only coaches with more than 5 years of experience to never miss the playoffs. He also claimed that the 43-year-old “is not even near his peak as an NBA coach.”
Brown’s return has heightened speculation that James will one day play for the Cavaliers again. The three-time NBA Most Valuable Player can opt out of his Heat contract as early as the summer of 2014 and has said he could potentially return to Cleveland. For the time being, James limited himself to praising the hiring. “I’m happy for him,” James said. “Very happy for him. I think he’s a really good coach, very defensive-minded coach. It’ll be good for those young guys that they have.”