On Monday, Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown experienced arguably the craziest 24 hours of his 25-year coaching career.
The whirlwind of a day started that morning, when the Sacramento Kings announced that they were hiring Brown as their new head coach. Brown would continue coaching the Warriors throughout their postseason run, and then his four-year deal with the Kings would begin.
"Mike has consistently demonstrated his ability to lead winning teams throughout his long and successful coaching career," Kings general manager Monte McNair said in a press release. "He has worked with some of the best players in the NBA and is one of the league's premier defensive minds. I am excited to bring his extensive experience to Sacramento."
Previously, Brown coached the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers — even winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in 2009. However, after working as an assistant coach under Steve Kerr in recent years, this would be his first head-coaching gig since 2014.
While Brown was understandably excited about this new opportunity, he tried to focus on the task at hand: beating the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals. The Warriors were up 2-1 in the series and Monday's game was pivotal.
Little did Brown know, he would be thrust back into a head-coaching role sooner than expected.
“Steve called me on his way in at about 4:45, and said he just wasn't feeling well and there's a chance that he may not be able to coach tonight,” Brown recalled. “We've done this drill before, and so I said, ‘Okay.’ He came in, got tested; I get a call back at 5:15 saying that he's out. So that's how I found out [I’d be the head coach]."
That’s not an easy transition to make moments before a game, and Brown admits that he felt nervous after receiving that call.
“Obviously, there's butterflies because you're going into the game with a certain mindset and it's a big game,” Brown said. “Every game that we play at this point in the year, it's huge. So to have that kind of thrown at you, you've got to switch gears because I know what my responsibilities are going in as 'Mike Brown the assistant coach,' and it changes. Now, you have to manage everything and not necessarily manage the specific things that you were asked to do before gametime. So, I had to change hats quickly.”
The atmosphere surrounding this playoff game was unique too, as Draymond Green was playing with a heavy heart. Earlier that afternoon, Green learned that his college teammate Adreian Payne had been shot and killed the night before in Orlando. Green and Payne played together for two seasons at Michigan State, and Green was devastated. (Green announced a $100,000 fund in Payne's name and called on other Spartan alumni to contribute as well).
“I love Draymond and when he hurts, we all hurt,” Brown said. “It was an up-and-down, emotional day.”
Despite everything the Warriors were dealing with, they managed to beat the Grizzlies 101-98 to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
“I'm so proud of them," Brown said. "Our leader in Steve being out with COVID right before the game. Draymond, emotionally, he's our emotional heart and soul, and for him to get hit with something that impactful, not only was it tough for him, but we felt it. We felt it as a group. It was a tough night for us. But at this point in the year, you win ball games. It doesn't matter how you get there, but you win ball games. We found a way to win tonight and that's why I'm excited.
“When we went in the back, [Warriors assistant] Chris DeMarco says, ‘Punch 42. Dive 52.’ I'm like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘We just kept handing the ball off to the fullback left and right, and at the end of the game, we kicked a field goal to win it. Hell of a football game.’ And that's what it was. But that's playoff basketball. Sometimes it's grimy. Sometimes it's gritty. They turned it into that in Game 2 in Memphis and we lost. They turned it into that again tonight, especially with Ja [Morant] out, but our guys found a way."