Larry Brown chuckled to himself because he knew that what he was about to say -- given his history of hopping from team to team and quickly fawning over the next employer that professes love for him -- would come off as the continuation of a bad, running joke. But Brown collected himself as he was introduced as the 22nd head coach of the New York Knicks, leaned into a microphone and stated with conviction, "I know this will be my last stop."
The news conference at Madison Square Garden ended a 10-day courtship between Brown, 64, and the Knicks. New York was the team Brown rooted for while growing up on Long Island -- and Brown's homecoming served as a sweet conclusion to a whirlwind month in which he was relieved of his duties after two successful seasons with the Detroit Pistons.
"When I was announced as the Olympic coach, I thought that was the single greatest honor that I could have," said Brown, who ranks fourth all-time in NBA coaching victories (984) and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002. "This tops it all."
Brown's arrival mirrored the fanfare that accompanied the hiring of Pat Riley in 1991. Brown was greeted with a message outside Madison Square Garden that read, "Welcome Back, Larry."
At times, Brown was overcome with emotion, taking deep breathes and pausing while describing the feeling of being in the place where his love for basketball began while watching the Knicks and wolfing down Nathan's hot dogs. Brown, the only coach in history with an NBA title and NCAA title, said he was in awe of taking over the same seat once occupied by Red Holzman, the legendary coach who led the Knicks to 613 wins and two NBA championships.
"You're coaching a storied franchise," Brown said. "I want to see this franchise respected, being a contender every year, having people come to the Garden and saying, 'Man, they played the right way.' "
Brown joins an expensive and flawed Knicks team that went 33-49 last season and hasn't won a playoff series since 2000. He has already embraced his role as team savior. "They're paying me a lot of money to do something," Brown said.
Terms of Brown's contract were not revealed, but it is believed to be a four-year deal worth an estimated annual salary of between $8 million and $10 million per season, which would make Brown the highest paid coach in professional sports. Brown also has a history of ugly divorces in his previous stops. The Pistons fired Brown after he led them to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals, winning the title in 2004. Detroit had issues with Brown engaging in serious discussions with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the position of team president. Brown also had said last season that coaching the Knicks was his "dream job," a comment that didn't go over well in Detroit.
Knicks President of Basketball Operations Isiah Thomas said the possible reward of bringing "the turnaround king" home to New York was well worth the risk.
"His value to us as a franchise at this time is immeasurable," Thomas said.
When asked about his split with the Pistons, Brown said there "wasn't enough time" to discuss how much it hurt to have such an unceremonious exit, which included a reported $7 million buyout and some unflattering parting shots from Pistons owner Bill Davidson. "He had the right to fire me [but] I didn't quit. That hurt me. I let it be known that I was ready to come back," Brown said.
Before signing with the Knicks, Brown said the Pistons would be his "last job" -- which the nomadic coach also said in Philadelphia and in Indiana and in Kansas . . . and, "I seem to say that everywhere I've been," Brown said, laughing. But there is reason to believe the 12th coaching stop will be the last for Brown, who was forced to miss 17 games last season because of problems with his hip and bladder.
His wife, Shelly, said the family is tired of moving around. His longtime agent, Joe Glass, said he couldn't imagine Brown coaching beyond age 70.
"Basketball started for me in this city and I want to be here when it's finally time for me to stop," Brown said. He added, "I'm not here to retire. I'm here to help build something that will be around for a long time."