In Celtics country, Sixers coach Brett Brown's dad touts son's resilience during NBA playoffs

Sixers coach Brett Brown grew up a Celtics fan. But people in his hometown root for the Sixers now, because of him.
Sixers coach Brett Brown grew up a Celtics fan. But people in his hometown root for the Sixers now, because of him.

“I think the fact that he has survived The Process,” Bob Brown was saying the other day, the pride translating clearly off the cellular towers that carried his voice from the southern Maine town where he did most of his own coaching and still lives. “And in pro sports — it’s fantastic. I don’t know anybody from any sport who has survived the process.

“Four years of losing. … All the credit to him.”

There is The Process. And there is The Source. Bob Brown can credit his schoolteacher wife Bonny with the sensibilities that have allowed their only son to navigate the questioning and criticism that accompanied the Sixers’ tedious and tumultuous trip toward the NBA’s elite level, the latest his decision not to call a timeout during Boston’s excruciating second-quarter run Thursday night.

But the knowledge base, the dedication to purpose — well, that traces right to Maine’s all-time winningest high school basketball coach, who still lives in the town where he coached most of his adult life, the town where, in the words of Brett Brown, “He was the king.”

The King will turn 80 this year. A member of five halls of fame, owner of 618 career victories during a career that spanned seven Maine high schools and three New England colleges at each division level, The Source satisfies his competitive juices these days through local bridge tournaments and pulling for the professional team his son has coached from the depths of despair to …

… challenge the very same team father and son once pulled for and identified with.

Winner of a local shooting contest, Brett Brown first stepped onto the old Boston Garden floor at age 7. A few years later, Bob Brown hired a plane to fly legendary Celtic Sam Jones from Boston to Rockport, Maine to conduct a shooting clinic at one of his camps — his star-struck son along for the ride, staring the whole way.

“Those were the days we were all Celtics fans,” said the father.

These days he, and several of those he plays pickleball with, are hard-core Sixers fan. That might seem hard to believe or understand in these parts or even most of New England, but in Maine, local sport allegiances often trump professional ones.

For example: Brett Brown’s 1979 South Portland team was undefeated and won the state championship game by 44 points. That season is still as likely to come up in conversation as Larry Bird’s fight with Julius Erving five years later.

“It’s the Maine mentality,” Bob Brown said. “We follow Maine kids. Whatever they do. I do not follow baseball, but I look for Ryan Flaherty every day.”

Sixers Head Coach Brett Brown sits with his notes in Lavietes Pavilion at Harvard University before his team practiced on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Camera icon Yong Kim/Staff Photographer
Brett Brown taking in a Sixers practice at Harvard while the team was in Boston to play the Celtics in the NBA playoffs.

Flaherty, the 31-year-old son of University of Southern Maine baseball coach Ed Flaherty, was cut by the Phillies late in camp this spring and signed by the Braves. A utility infielder, Flaherty entered Friday batting .310, playing mostly third base.

That’s resilience, a necessary component for anyone who has lived through even a few Maine winters. A necessary component, too, for an NBA coach who, at least early on in The Process, went through players and lineups like his father goes through wiper blades.

Invited by the likes of Dean Smith and Larry Brown to teach at their clinics over his 42 years of coaching, Bob Brown has remained mostly silent through it all. One obvious reason: “Who the hell needs a father who’s going to second-guess you or try to tell you what to do?” he said.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do the former or sometimes want to do the latter. Going to both games of the series at TD Garden was torturous on a few fronts, he said. Traffic from Maine to Boston is much busier these days, and well, he and his wife are almost 80. “Thirty years ago, no problem,” he said.

But mostly it’s the reality of it all: Bob Brown likes to tape his son’s games and watch them after he knows the outcome, which he opted to do Thursday. Good thing, too. “It’s very easy to watch when you know the outcome. The guy steps up to the line and misses two foul shots, you’re not saying, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to lose the game.’ You already know.”

But mostly it boils down to this realization: The Process is too far advanced for The Source. “I coached boys and I coached young men,” Bob Brown said. “And he coaches grownups — 30-year-olds who are making a lot more money than I’ve made in my whole life.

“It’s a different world. And I do know that what my interpretation of all of these things are is more of a high-school and a college mentality. And it just doesn’t work at that level.”