LAS VEGAS — Troy Brown Jr. made his NBA debut about 27 miles from his parents’ home where his mattress and headboard had recently been given away. So, days before his Washington Wizards teammates arrived in Las Vegas for Summer League, Brown had to compress his 6-foot-7 body on his eldest sister’s former bed.
Brown scored his first bucket as a professional — driving nearly the length of the court and tossing up a floater over an NBA veteran — in front of rows of cheering family members led by his parents, Troy Sr. and Lynn. Even after becoming an instant millionaire by signing a rookie contract with the Wizards, Brown’s idea of a party is belting out Al Green and Rose Royce jams during family singalong nights.
Brown is the Wizards’ 15th overall draft pick; a significant title because the team could be his responsibility some day. But he is also an 18-year-old who only recently moved out of his childhood bedroom in Las Vegas.
All NBA rookies have to make the transition to the grown man’s league, which will be quite the leap for Brown who is the second-youngest player selected by Washington in the lottery era (since 1985). Observers will evaluate Brown on how he produces on the court, while he will still be too young to buy a beer. When teammates go clubbing after road games, Brown will be back in his hotel room playing “Call of Duty” (or so says his mom). Though he already has a scroll of accomplishments which includes winning a gold medal in the 2016 FIBA U17 World Championships, Brown’s still so boyish that, with a straight face, he mentions missing senior prom as one of the biggest sacrifices in his basketball career.
When the Wizards complete their Summer League schedule, Brown will be leaving the comforts of his hometown and the protection of his small circle. But Brown has spent the past several months preparing for this exact thing: exiting the nest and becoming an NBA player. His family has spent years bracing for this moment, too. Ready or not, here comes adulthood.
“You’re a grown man now. You took a grown man step,” Troy Brown Sr. told his son. “There’s nothing else I can do for you. It’s on you. This is your dream. You’re at a stage now when you made that decision to go from being a college athlete to a professional, the whole thing changed. Now . . . you … are … a . . . pro.”
‘Everything is in the family’
Senior only talks tough. Though his words, from a man who spent 32 years as a probation officer and a supervisor of a high-security unit housing juvenile offenders, might seem like a douse of cold water for his wide-eyed son, big Troy is a teddy bear. His voice catches when he speaks of his mother-in-law who passed away last year. His eyes water as he recalls his son giving $50 to a woman he spotted standing under the hot Las Vegas sun, asking for money for a bus ticket.
Lynn Brown has the same heart. She would make pancakes for the abused and abandoned children she worked with in the Clark County department of family services. Now in retirement after three decades, she sends inspirational text messages to a chain of family and friends. She’s the one who keeps it together when her husband chokes up while telling stories, instinctively filling in whenever he gets too emotional.
With their three athletic children — Jenae, who threw shot put at the University of Nevada; Jada, who played basketball at the University of Kansas; and Troy Jr. — the Browns created a simple way of life with family at the center.
“Everything is in the family,” Troy Jr. said. “We hang out like we’re friends. It’s definitely a good thing to have like that around.”
The elder Brown lost his father when he was 8 years old. He didn’t want to burden his own kids with growing up faster than they should. The older girls had found the balance of athletics and childhood — the Brown household was the neighborhood beacon for sleepovers — but young Troy showed early potential. Basketball always beckoned.
At 2 months old, the pediatrician predicted that Troy Jr. would grow to almost 6 feet 8 inches. Like his sisters, he inherited the physical gifts from Troy Sr. and Lynn; he played basketball and she played volleyball at the University of Texas A&M-Kingsville. At 5 years old, their son was showing off by dribbling a basketball while suspending one leg in the air and swiveling around little orange cones. Over time, people noticed this talent and wanted to turn the kid into a basketball product. Senior said no. He wanted sports to be a joy for his son, not a job.
“He let me enjoy basketball when I was younger,” Troy Brown Jr. said of his father. “Basketball was my toy. Like, honestly. That was the fun.”
Eventually, as his son’s talents blossomed and could no longer be protected from the amateur spotlight, the father relented. Anthony Brown, no relation to the family, took over as Troy Jr.’s basketball mentor and built the Las Vegas Prospects AAU team around him as a eighth grader.
“He was going to be special,” Anthony Brown said about Troy during his middle-school years. “You saw that then. He took a team full of neighborhood kids, it wasn’t a recruited team, and took them to the championship two years in a row.”
By 14, Troy Jr. was offered a scholarship to hometown UNLV and attended the LeBron James Skills Academy as one of the youngest invitees. He was on the path that would lead to him becoming one of the top picks in this year’s draft. Knowing their job has come to an end, having done everything in their power to raise a well-adjusted young man, the Browns are ready to let go.
“We’ve paved the way for him,” Lynn said. “It’s just a matter of him going out and doing it. I think he’ll be fine.”
Enjoy the ride
Just as sure as they know he’ll survive his rookie season, the Browns also know their son is hard on himself. Last Friday night, Brown lived up to this reputation. Brown’s moment as the hometown kid-turned-NBA pro didn’t follow a fairy tale script.
After scoring that first bucket over Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, who played in 61 games for the Eastern Conference champions last year, Brown tried to morph into playmaker. He dribbled with his eyes up to find a teammate — but didn’t notice Osman. The second-year player ripped the ball away. Brown flailed his arms and looked frustrated as Osman skipped down court and drew a foul. It was one of five turnovers scattered throughout an uneven performance of 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting with four rebounds and one assist in the Wizards’ 72-59 loss.
After the game ended, Brown emerged from behind the red curtain of the makeshift locker room inside the Cox Pavilion, bags of ice on both knees and an Oregon men’s basketball backpack over his shoulders. He evaluated his debut just as his parents dreaded he would.
“Sometimes during the game, I felt like I sped myself up. That’s where the turnovers came from,” Brown said. “I feel like that was more my fault, not making the right plays at times.”
Brown bounced back in his next game, dropping a double-double of 21 points and 12 rebounds, then going for 23 and 8 in the Wizards’ only win in summer league on Monday. However by Wednesday when the Wizards lost in the first round of the tournament, 89-74 to the Los Angeles Clippers, Brown couldn’t find his shooting rhythm. He missed nine of 13 attempts and bowed out with 10 points.
After the game, Brown was more upbeat about the experience.
“It’s been amazing for me. It’s been a blessing,” Brown said about playing back in Vegas. “Even the ups and downs. It’s just an honor to be here and be able to play in front of the people that support me.”
The Brown parents feel their teenage son will be able to manage being a plebe in professional basketball — he may have to wear a kiddie backpack like Tomas Satoransky did in 2016-17 or raid the visitors’ locker room refrigerator for Gatorade as Devin Robinson was tasked to do last year. They do, however, worry about how he’ll process the peaks and valleys of a rookie season. They want him to take this seriously, yes, but also savor every moment, the good and the bad.
“My concern would be is him not enjoying and embracing it,” Troy Sr. said. “Him embracing the disappointments because there’s going to be a lot of those. There are going to be some sitting on the bench. ‘I didn’t get any run.’ There’s going to be some long days . . . and I want him to embrace all that.
“I want him to be as happy as I’m going to be,” he continued. “Because whether you play 10 minutes a night, whether you play two minutes or don’t play, you know what, I’m going to be proud of you.”