In 2001, Kwame Brown graduated from a Georgia public high school and was drafted by the Washington Wizards first overall in the NBA draft, the first number one pick to come straight from the prep ranks. In retrospect, there were on-court red flags the Wizards should have heeded.
First, Brown was a 19-year-old high school senior, so it's likely the already dominant high school player had even more of a physical edge on the 18-year-olds trying to "contain" him. Second, much of his appeal was based on his quickness and agility packaged in a tall frame, but in order to withstand the NBA post game, he'd have to bulk up, which made him too stiff to use those gifts. There was more, but consensus holds that what did Brown in was the mental strain of playing in the best basketball league in the world and, more specifically, the hurt Michael Jordan put on him day in and day out in Wizards practices.
In 2001, I graduated from a Jesuit prep school in San Francisco, about as totally different a place as can be from Brunswick, Georgia, and then spent the next three years having the time of my life at college in New York City. Meanwhile, by just about every account, Brown was miserable in Washington, in no small part because of Jordan's abuse.
We're not talking about basic trash talk here. This was psychological warfare gone horribly awry. Through those links above, corroborated elsewhere, and with perspective brought on by distance, you'll see that Brown was an intelligent, sensitive, 19-year-old kid dearly devoted to his mother, the woman who'd raised him and seven siblings after running away from his abusive father. Said father subsequently went to prison for life, with no parole, for murdering his girlfriend. How can you not root for a 19-year-old with that background? One who says something like this?
"The guy took probably the biggest risk of his life, picking a high school player Number 1," Brown says. "I'm conscious that if I screw up, I'm messing with Michael's reputation. I know he's going to work me to death."
Michael Jordan then put in motion an epic public humiliation. He invited Brown to his house so they could work out together. Took him under his wing. Every bit, he played the part of the 19-year-old kid's idol, and told him that he'd do everything he could to make him a star. It's hardly a reach to guess he was acting like a dad for the kid who wanted nothing to do with his father. Then, Jordan pulled the rug out.
As Michael Leahy reported in his book, When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback, and for the Washington Post, Jordan thought he could toughen up Brown by breaking him down and forcing him to stand up for himself. In Jordan's world, that meant he "ritually reduced Brown to tears in front of the team," and, more reprehensibly, constantly referred to Brown as a "flaming faggot."
Without even getting into the implications of the homophobia, it was, probably, the nadir of Jordan's publicly known behavior. What kind of a person researches a young man's life, knows (or should have known) that the young man is fiercely protective of his mother and in deep pain at the absence of his father, offers himself as a father figure, and then publicly declares in as insulting a way as possible that the young man isn't a man, is less than a man, is not deserving of manhood?
It's a wonder Brown didn't follow Glen Coffee and Chamique Holdsclaw into early retirement.
I'm hoping Jordan is a different person today. I'm hoping Brown is a different person today. I know I'm different than I was seven, eight, nine years ago. There's a lot to this that we don't know and probably never will, because if what's known was the only information, then there's no way I could imagine Brown working for or with Jordan ever again.
On the court? That's easier to chew over. Brown is not good. He's really bad at basketball, and the best we can hope is that he repeats his 2003-04 season, when he was mostly right about league average. That's on the face of it. But the signing's only as terrible as your expectations blow Brown up to be.
Let's say all the weirdness with Jordan is a non-issue and Kwame Brown plays for Larry Brown as well as he's capable.
Can we expect more than 900 minutes from him? No.
Can we expect him to be close to league average on offense? Not if his PER totals every year of his career are any indication.
Can we expect him to play good defense? His reputation is less than stellar, though it is better than his offensive reputation.
In the end, Brown's going to be at least as "good" as DeSagana Diop (shudder), probably a little better, and won't show that he deserves minutes over Nazr Mohammed. His presence isn't totally pointless, like Dominic McGuire; Brown is another large body that can use up six fouls on the better centers in the league. However, by signing known mediocrities like McGuire and Brown, the Cats are losing opportunities to sign relatively intriguing unknowns from the D-League or elsewhere, let alone unexciting guys like Josh Boone or Rodney Carney, who are still available and clearly better than the pair of guys we ended up with.