Month: July 2007

An exclusive Native Voice Interview with legendary Coach Dale Brown

Best known as star coach for SHAQ (Shaqullle O’Neal) at Louisiana State University, Coach Brown was a featured guest speaker on July 10 at the 2007 Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) in Phoenix, Arizona. He came out to speak to the kids about overcoming sports (and life) hurdles, with no excuses.

When Dale Brown arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in March 1972, he arrived with a dream that was perceived by many who knew the LSU Basketball program as impossible. The dream was to make basketball a fan favorite in Tiger Country and to make it a nationally respected program as well.

Dale Brown’s straightforward, determined approach, combined with the knowledge of the game, excellent recruiting skills, and his positive philosophy made his dream a reality. Equally amazing was his 25-year career as the Tiger’s head coach, the winningest coach in LSU Basketball history. He is also the second winningest coach in SEC history, surpassed only by Kentucky’s legendary Adolph Rupp.

Brown’s LSU teams won numerous SEC titles, and advanced to four Elite Eights and two Final Fours. He was chosen twice as the National Basketball College Coach of the Year.

105 of 160 of Brown’s players received their college degrees and those that attended LSU for four years had a graduation rate of 84%.

He began his career as a high school coach in North Dakota where he coached basketball, wrestling, football and track and field. He was an assistant coach at Utah State for five years and one year at Washington State before becoming the head coach at LSU in 1972.

In high school in North Dakota, Brown was the state’s leading scorer in basketball and set the school record in the 440 yard dash.

Brown earned 12 letters in basketball, football and track at Minot State University, making him the school’s only athlete to achieve that goal. In 1957, he received a B.S. degree from Minot State University and, in 1964, he received his. M.S. degree from the University of Oregon.

Coach Brown is a member of the North Dakota and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the North Dakota and Louisiana Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. The SEC honored Brown by inducting him as an SEC Living Legend.

At the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament

July 10, Phoenix, AZ

The Native Voice; How did you find out about the Native American Basketball Invitational Tournament (NABI) Tournament?

Coach Dale Brown: I was in Phoenix a couple of months ago and Gina Marie Scarpa-Mabry came up to me. She was so committed and personable and told me about NABI and asked, if I would speak to the young participants. And I told her to look at my web site and call my secretary and set something up. She said, “We don’t have that kind of money, what you charge.” And I said, “Listen, for the Indian kids, I’ll do it free.” I felt that if I charged, it would take away from what I feel about what needs to be done and what needs to be said. And if you are paid, then what you are is a spokesperson for the fee you get. So that’s how I came here.

TNV: What would you hope that you could impart to these young people at the NABI tournament? What would you like them to know?

Coach Brown: My main thesis is that there are 6.5 billion people on Earth right now. It’s the most in the history of the world and everybody claims that they’re looking for success. But they also want to be happy. So, how do you get that? My theory with the young generation of Native Americans is that “You’ll never get to where you want to go if you forget where you came from.”

The Trail of Tears has never ended. It is important to give them some examples without giving a crutch to lean on. From 1607 to the present time there is no question that the American Indian is the most mistreated, neglected, cheated and forgotten ethnic group in American history. For far too long, Indians in this country have survived in the White man’s shadow. They have humbled themselves, becoming invisible, learning to survive, just barely, on hand-outs form the federal government.

So, how do you change this? Well there’s no simplistic way, but the number one thing you have to do is to become educated.

Nelson Mandela said it very clear. He said, “Education is the most powerful tool you can use to change the world.”

I talk to the youth about becoming educated, and about discipline. Discipline in our personal lives, discipline about being on time, the commitment they have to make. Commitment is the best boon to success. Stick with it. Believe in yourself and persevere.

These Indian kids have come from a pretty fantastic spot. How this race has been able to survive after all these things…centuries of oppression, harassment, thievery, cruelty, slaughter…and yet the tribal members have survived. So this is a paramount example of the strength of the American Indian.

When Columbus landed on these shores, he wrote back to the King and Queen of Spain, after first encountering Indians (and I quote him on this) “I swear to you that there is not a better nation, they are sweet, they are gentle, and there are bright.”

TNV: So where do we go from recognizing the history and knowing where you come from, and finding success now?

Coach Brown: The question becomes, “Today, where do you change the system?”

There are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.

I use examples of Shaquille Q’Neal, who I coached. There is no reason for him to be where he is now. His father was a drug addict – he didn’t have a father, really. But he had a step father who stepped in and got him educated. With all of the misery that the American Indian has gotten through, you can’t continue to look for a helping hand. You want a helping hand? Look at the end of your arm. Because the government has not done it. We’ve mistreated the American Indian.

It’s so easy for these youngsters to say “How in the world can I change the system? What can I possibly do?” Well, there were two unusual men who helped me. One of them was Nelson Mandela. 27 years he was locked in a prison, and yet he had a commitment because he wanted to change the system.

And there was a second man, an Oglala Lakota, a Marine lieutenant by the name of Billy Mills. He had been so beaten down, even in college, in Kansas, that he debated committing suicide. I had breakfast with him a few months ago in Phoenix. He told me that he thought about jumping out of a dorm window because his coach kept on telling him that “You can’t do this, Indians can’t do this.” Yet he becomes the only American who has ever won the 10,000 meter race in the Olympics (1964).

TNV: These kids at NABI are all basketball players, and they all have dreams that have gotten them at least to the point where they have earned the privilege of playing in the NABI tournament. What do you tell them about a guy like Shaq? Shaquille O’Neal is such a hero. What did it take, from a coach’s perspective, for him to become “Shaq”?

Coach Brown: I met him at thirteen years of age. I was speaking to the military troops in Germany, and this young man came up to me. I did not know that he was thirteen years old. He told he would be trying but for the team, and I thought he meant the military team. He told me he couldn’t dunk the ball and he had trouble running up and down the court, could I show him exercises? I said, “Sure.” So I came out from behind the podium and spent maybe ten minutes with him I bent down to my bag to get a pen and paper to write down his name and address. I told him, “Young man, when I get back to LSU I will mail you a weight training program.” I said, “How long you been in the service, soldier?” And broke out a big smile and he said, “I’m not in the service.”

I asked him, “How tall are you?” And he said, “six eight,” and I said, What do you weigh?” and he said, “About 250.” I said, “What’s your shoe size?” and he said “Seventeen.” I said, “What are you doing here?” and he answered, “My father’s a military man.” So, I sent him the weight training program. Six weeks later I got a letter from him: “Coach, I did everything you told me to do and my high school coach cut me off the team. He told me I was too slow, clumsy, and too big of feet. He told me I could never be a basketball player, and why don’t I try to be a goalie in soccer.”

Now, what profound statement am I going to tell a thirteen-year-old child, thousands of miles across the water…? So I sat down and I wrote him the following note: “Dear Shaquille, Every time I fail, somebody told me I couldn’t do something. I got my heart broken. I tried the following and it worked for me. I’ll bet it works for you. It’s very simple: ‘Always try to do your best, never give up, and God will take care of everything else.”

TNV: We want this message to get out to those kids who didn’t get to go to NABI this year. The ones who are saying, “How can I get to play at NABI,” let alone LSU or the NBA. So talk to us about what it is like on a daily basis when you are a coach, you got somebody like Shaquille O’Neal, you’ve got all the other players there as well. You know, people have good days and bad days. What do people need to have, every day when they get up in the morning, to be successful in something like basketball.

Coach Brown: In life in general, basketball, anything, you have to recognize that if you want to be successful, you will have to negotiate, jump over four hurdles. Everybody has to jump over them.

6.5 billion people on the planet. The most ever in this world living at the same time. The four hurdles for everyone: You have to overcome “I can’t,” you have to overcome failure, you have to overcome handicaps, and you have to know yourself. We all have to jump over these four hurdles. And you can’t barter, you can’t buy, you can’t cheat, you can’t lie your way over them. You’ve got to jump over them.

Any day of your life, you have 86,400 seconds in that day. During that 86,400 seconds you are going to face somebody telling you you can’t do something, or you thinking you can’t do something. That when you try something you are going to fail. So you have to know that your “FQ” is just as important as your “IQ.” That’s your “Failure Quotient.” You’ve got to get back up. You can’t let that failure keep you down.

Then, you’re going to have a handicap: “You’re Black, you’re Jewish, you’re a woman, you’re an Indian, you’re poor, you’re an orphan, you’re an immigrant, you’re illegitimate.” You’re going to have to overcome your handicap.

Then you have the last hurdle is.. .the most profound victory there is, that you are going to have, is over yourself. You’ve eventually got to know your self, you can’t play any games with your self.

TNV: You’ve got folks who have got a lot of talent, and you’ve got folks who have got a lot of guts. In basketball it sure helps to be tall. What do you tell kids who have the heart and drive, but maybe aren’t the tallest or the fastest?

Coach Brown: It’s very simple. The decathlete is considered the finest athlete in the world. Since the decathlon was started, five of the gold medal winners in the Olympics were 5’9″ and 170 lbs. Your size is not a handicap. Your size, your color, your race, prejudice, etc. Find where it works for you. Martin Luther King summed it up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”

TNV: Talking to kids who live on the rez, who have a dream, who may not have that mentor, that role model to help them along around them. What do you tell that kid? How do you tell them to dig down deep inside? How do they make their own opportunities? It sounds really good, but what if they say, “I don’t have anybody to help me?”

Coach Brown: I tell them my own personal story.

Two days before I was ever born, my so-called father abandoned my mother, and never returned. She came off a farm in North Dakota with an eighth grade education. We had to go on welfare, $42.50 a month. She had to babysit and clean peoples’ homes. I had to go to work practically after they snipped my umbilical cord. We lived above a bar and a hardware store.

We didn’t have any television, we didn’t have any automobile, we didn’t have any anything. She finally got a radio so I could listen to that. And my dad never did come back. He never called, he never wrote, he never sent any money. He just totally disappeared in the world.

From watching my mother suffer, from having a good mother in the house…she was a catalyst for me. She was uneducated but she kept telling me that I could make something of myself. And then one day I got in trouble in school, I got kicked out of class. I got sent to the Principal. And he was the ex-coach. And he said, “Get down here. You know what your problem is? You got a chip on your shoulder.” And I’ll never forget the next thing he said to me. I think it had the most impact of anything that ever happened to me. He said, “Dale, you want to know something? You need to know this. God doesn’t make any junk. You can be or do whatever you want to do. But, you’ve got to get the chip off your shoulder.” So, that’s basically the message.

TNV: What does is it feel like to struggle and win? You’ve had some pretty big wins in your life and some pretty big struggles. What does that feel like?

Coach Brown: It’s exhilarating and humbling at the same time. Both of those emotions take you over at the same time. There isn’t an arrogance, there isn’t an “I deserve this.” I can’t explain it. There’s a feeling of just exuberance, and feeling very good. But with the exhilaration, there is just this humbling feeling saying, “Man alive, I’m so blessed that I am able to reach this pinnacle.”

TNV: And you think this pinnacle is available to anyone with the guts and the heart to make it happen.

Coach Brown: The answer is very simple. When you are 27 years in a prison cell, like Nelson Mandela, because you don’t believe in Apartheid, and you finally got out and and you become President of South Africa… It’s Shaquille O’Neal who was abandoned by his father becoming who he is…Yes. Cinderella is not just a fairy tale. There are a lot of Cinderella stories. Gina Marie Mabry (Founder of NABI) is a perfect example. She told me her life story. It’s absolutely beautiful. She should write a book.

TNV: Yes. Definitely. She has really struggled to become who she is and look what she has created here.

So what are you on to now?

Coach Brown: Well, you might be interested in this. Shaquille and I and a group of others, with ABC, we’re doing six one-hour specials on childhood obesity. Tonight is our third episode. Obesity, as you know, is a major problem now, and also on the reservations.

TNV: We’ll definitely tune in and check it out. Any last inspiring words for our readers?

Coach Brown: My attorney is a Black Muslim from LA and my business manager is a Black man who graduated number one from Yale. So we get together once a year.

Last year we were finishing dinner, and I said, “You know that I speak from my heart. Tell me if I’m wrong. In my opinion, the Klu Klux Klan, racists and bigots, they can fold up their sheets and put them in the drawer. But now Blacks do more harm to blacks them these sick individuals do, and nobody will talk about it The White politician is trying to get the Black vote and they don’t even know how to spell ‘ghetto,’ and they won’t talk about it, the people who aren’t committed won’t talk about it, and, a number of Blacks don’t want to talk about it because they’ll be called ‘Uncle Tom,’ and Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson screw things up the other way.”

“You are 100% right,” they said.

Well yesterday, I watched on national television for the first time, “Bury the ‘N’ word.” Did you see this?

They had a rally with a coffin with guys in black suits holding the coffin, and they were “Burying the ‘N’ Word.”

They said, “We’ve got to quit blaming the White man. Our rappers use the ‘N’ word more than any White man, and we’re criticizing Whites. We’ve got to quit shooting each other, we’ve got to quit having illegitimate kids… We’re going to fight racism the rest of our lives. Let’s stop doing this to each other.”

Well, that’s the same thing that has to be done for the Native American. Yes, there’s no question that 370 treaties with the United States government, signed with Indian, and they broke every dog-gone one of them. But even in today’s society, somebody’s got to be talking about being late, being obese, the suicide rate, etc., and quit soft-pedaling it.

TNV: They use the “N” word, too.

Coach Brown: Well, that’s my message to these kids. Without knocking them down, but somebody’s got to tell them the truth, what they have at them. And how to get up and change the system.

TNV: Thank you.


“Martin Luther King summed It up pretty well: “If the door to opportunity does not open to polite knocks, kick the damn thing down.”