Roger Brown’s professional basketball career came perilously close to mirroring the fate of his college career. Coming out of New York City, Brown was one of the most highly recruited players in the country and the University of Dayton snagged the superb baller. But a point-shaving and gambling scandal surrounding Jack Molinas took down many promising young players like Connie Hawkins, Doug Moe, and Roger Brown.
Dayton and the NCAA banned Brown in 1960. The NBA likewise did so when Brown became eligible for their draft four years later. Brown had already moved to Dayton, Ohio, far from his New York home and was stuck. Over the years he kept his game and skills alive via amateur and semi-pro games, often against NBA players like Oscar Robertson.
Finally, in 1967, a chance for revival occurred thanks to the Indiana Pacers of the ABA. The new league was looking for any and all talent. Brown, Moe, and Hawkins all got their breaks thanks to the ABA. But of the three, Brown certainly made the most of the ABA as a player.
The strong and burl swingman gave the Pacers an instant star and credibility. Then in 1968 the Pacers traded for center Mel Daniels who gave Indiana the dynamic core of their three ABA titles. Freddie Lewis, Bob Netolicky, George McGinnis, Bill Keller, and others flowed around this tandem, but when times got critical and the clock got low, it was Roger Brown who invariably got the ball.
The 1969 and 1970 postseasons were the absolute highlights of Brown’s ABA career as he averaged 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. In 1969, the Pacers lost to the Oakland Oaks in the Finals. In 1970, Brown wouldn’t allow for a repeat of that heartache and secured a tough 4-games-to-2 series win over the Los Angeles Stars. Brown was monstrous down the stretch of that series scoring 53, 39, and 45 points in the final three games.
The scintillating performances earned him the Playoff MVP award.
Brown unleashed those spectacular games using a bevvy of one-on-one moves no defender could hope to stop on his own. Brown would lean and twist his body into a defender creating the space for him to nail his sweet sweet jumper. On the break, Brown had good handles to strike all the way to the basket. But the threat of his pull up jumper kept the defense confused and on figurative roller skates.
(check out my review of the fantastic documentary on Roger Brown by director Ted Green)
Rajah, as he was affectionately and devotedly called, was also one of the first players to skillfully utilize the three-point shot. He could catch the rock, stand still, stare you down, then rise up on the wing and bury the three. His three-point accuracy increased with age as he finished in the ABA’s top 5 in 3PT% three times toward the end of his career in the mid-1970s.
The end of his pro career came in 1974-75. Prior to that season he had spent all of his ABA days with the Pacers, but that season Brown spent time with the Memphis Sounds and Utah Stars before finally returning home to Indiana by season’s end where he retired.
And make no mistake, Indiana was now home for Brown. He served as a city councilman and was immersed in the community. When he passed way in 1997 at age 54, his funeral was held at the Pacers’ Market Square Arena – an arena that wouldn’t have existed without Brown’s basketball exploits two decades earlier. Old teammates who had become family for Brown carried him off the court, in his casket, for the final time.
That Brown never spent a single second in the NBA just proves that basketball’s greatest players can be found in any place. They’re success as professionals may rest on their own shoulders but their failure can just as easily be heaped on unjust forces. Roger Brown initially looked to be the latter: a victim of railroad “justice”. Fortunately for Roger Brown, the Pacers gave him the opportunity. Even more important, Roger was willing to risk one more potential letdown for basketball redemption. Thankfully, the regal Rajah didn’t fail, but instead succeeded beyond belief.
Years Played: 1967 – 1975
3x Champion (1970, 1972-’73)
Playoff MVP (1970)
All-ABA 1st Team (1971)
2x All-ABA 2nd Team (1968, 1970)
4x All-Star (1968, 1970-’72)
ABA - 605 Games
17.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.8 APG, 0.7 SPG, 0.6 BPG
All-Time ABA Ranks
10th Points, 25th PPG
13th FGs Made, 48th FG%
8th FTs Made, 36th FT%
7th 3PTs Made, 11th 3PT%
10th Assists, 19th APG
11th Games Played, 6th Minutes Played