Who's Accountable For Brown?

Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown's arrival in Washington brought much promise to the franchise but the first high-schooler ever chosen No. 1 overall failed to live up to expectations. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)
By Tony Kornheiser
Sunday, May 8, 2005

It's fine and dandy for the Wizards to get rid of Kwame Brown, to boot him off the team in the middle of the playoffs and tell him they don't care where he goes -- just as long as he gets up out of here. That's their call.

But cutting away Kwame Brown is not something the Wizards can casually brush under the rug and be done with. Much as they want to, they can't simply say: "It's over. And we're moving on."

Uh, no.

Just four short years ago Kwame Brown, a teenager straight from high school, was the No. 1 overall draft pick, the only No. 1 overall pick the franchise has ever had. We're not talking about some castoff veteran who's been here for an hour or two, like Anthony Peeler, or some kid nobody's ever heard of, like Peter John Ramos. Kwame Brown was the first high schooler to ever be picked No. 1 overall. And when you suddenly dump him -- in the middle of the only playoff series the franchise has had in the last seven seasons -- this is what we call Big News.

So the Wizards need to talk about it.

They need to talk about how they came to hate Kwame Brown so much that they would rather lose without him than win with him. (Happily for them, so far all they've done is win without him.) They need to talk about how, over four years, the No. 1 pick in the draft became absolutely, positively worthless. They need to talk about how they came to "Keyshawn" this kid, to say to him: You are a plague. Get out.

The Wizards need to talk about it because four years ago and three years ago and even two years ago they sold very expensive tickets on the promise of how Kwame Brown was going to be the centerpiece of the reawakening of this franchise. (Not this year, no; this year it was Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison. But still whenever the Wizards spoke of Kwame, they continued to do so in the most optimistic, glowing terms.) The Wizards never stopped selling Kwame Brown. But now not even they are buying him.

Perhaps you remember when Kwame was introduced to the Washington public after the 2001 draft. Everybody in management praised him. Michael Jordan beamed when he introduced Kwame. So did Abe Pollin. Ted Leonsis (who was much more visible then with the Wizards) told me how much I'd love Kwame; what a great kid Kwame was, respectful and committed to being great. And the local media swooned over Kwame after that initial appearance, marveling at how mature and intelligent he appeared. Now that it's all gone to hell, the Wizards need to speak about it in some cathartic detail -- not simply wish it away.

Yes, I know it's the playoffs, and the Wizards are preoccupied. But this is Washington, a city of politics and news conferences, a city where "accountability" is paramount -- even when it's something you're trying to duck. This is one of the few cities where officials actually have to explain themselves. If the president of the United States can take questions, so can the Washington Wizards.

I know Ernie Grunfeld didn't draft Kwame. He's not on Ernie's tab. Michael Jordan picked Kwame; Doug Collins was Kwame's first coach. And they are no longer in the media guide. But Abe Pollin is. He signed Kwame; he paid Kwame; he praised Kwame; he sold Kwame. I want to see him discuss Kwame.

I want to see Abe Pollin, Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan sit in chairs and answer questions about how this happened. (And sure, I want Susan O'Malley to be there, too, chirping the NBA-DUNK number to buy tickets, like she always does.) Congressmen, senators, Cabinet officers and judicial nominees do this every day in Washington. News conferences are the lifeblood of this city. The Wizards shouldn't be encouraged to just hold photo ops when they bake a cake for their all-star selections. I know exactly why the Wizards don't want to talk about what happened here -- they don't want to further devalue Kwame and get even less for him. But again, they sold him to us for four years. Now, suddenly, he's poison. So this is what I would call a "product liability hearing."

I want the Wizards to answer questions about why other high schoolers, like Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady, got better after four years, and Kwame did not. Why did Kwame regress? (Not all of this can be laid off on Michael Jordan and Doug Collins. They had Kwame for two years, and Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan have had him for two years.) I want them to answer questions about whether Kwame was, as former Wizards assistant coach Johnny Bach said, "unable or unwilling to meet any of the demands. Practice demands. Emotional demands." I have heard from former Wizards officials that Kwame regularly showed up late, regularly spurned advice from coaches, regularly was obstinate. I want to know if that was true and whether it continued to be true. I want the Wizards to answer questions about why Gilbert Arenas felt the need to cover up Kwame's lie about that stomach flu, and why even after Kwame was cut loose Arenas still said, "Anything he needs, I'm going to be there." What is the temperature of the locker room on Kwame's firing? How many players are behind Kwame, and how many behind Grunfeld and Jordan?

This has been a great season for the Wizards, maybe a watershed season. Grunfeld, Jordan and the players have just about lifted The Curse O' Les Boulez. Obviously, they are better off without Kwame Brown, who may not, in his heart of hearts, really want to play basketball. But just four short years ago Kwame Brown was the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Even when you consider he was picked more for what he might do in his fifth year than in his first four, his flop is stunning, monumental. And the Wizards owe all of us more than, "We're moving on." In this city more than any other, nobody moves on without answering questions.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company