Roger Brown: Justice A Long Time Coming

“Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”

–William Gladstone

DividerIn 2013, a long-time NBA injustice was partially remedied by the induction of Roger Brown into the Hall of Fame.

Ironically, Roger never played in the NBA.

1378423538000-XXX-Roger-Brown-sd6432Roger’s case arose during an era where athletes did not enjoy the legal and due process rights they enjoy today. A star basketball player for Wingate High School in Brooklyn, he signed with Dayton University, playing his freshman year for their team. Roger became linked with Jack Molinas and the infamous college point shaving scandal in which police arrested 37 people.

Molinas was found guilty of bribing players to fix games from 1957 to 1961. He was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. Molinas served five years, mainly at Attica where he was the inspiration for the Burt Reynolds film, “The Longest Yard.” He was released after five years and moved to Hollywood to traffic in pornography and furs from Taiwan.

Jack Molinas was killed, a bullet to his head, at age 43, on August 3, 1975. He was standing in the backyard of his Hollywood Hills home with his lifetime sweetheart, Shirley Marcus of New York who had arrived only a few hours earlier from New York. Mrs. Marcus was wounded in the nick in the shooting. It was not clear, according to the police, if she was a target or an accidental victim. Police did not rule out a gangland hit on Molinas.

Joe Goldstein, Explosion II: The Molinas Period

 

Roger and Connie Hawkins were introduced to Molinas while in high school. Despite the connection, Roger was never accused or found guilty of being involved in point shaving in any way shape or form.

After completing the freshmen 1960-61 season at Dayton, the powers that be in the NCAA and NBA, not overly concerned about the truth of his innocence or wrongdoing, banned Roger from both the NBA and NCAA. Roger was also left off of the 1964 Olympic team.

To escape the swirling controversy, Roger returned to Dayton and began playing for a series of AAU and other amateur teams including, the tragicly named Jones Morticians

Despite all investigations failing to reveal any signs of any wrongdoing, the City of Dayton wouldn’t embrace Roger. Quite the opposite, in fact. Irate fans made many threats against Roger: they felt his scandal and subsequent ban cost Dayton a run at an NCAA title. Reminiscent of contemporary fans directing their rage at athletes rather than the corrupt structures they operate within, fans blamed Roger and ignored the forces that blackballed an innocent, and talented, young man.  It cost him (and basketball fans) what could have been a magnificent career.

RBrownFloatScottNetoRoger finally got his chance in 1967, when the new ABA franchise, the Indiana Pacers, signed him to his first professional contract. Finally Roger was allowed to play professional basketball, and he quickly made up for lost time. Roger had a phenomenal ABA career: he was a three-time ABA champion, a four-time All-Star, a first team all ABA player in 1971, and the 1970 ABA playoff MVP. After his retirement, Roger was named to the All-Time ABA Team, and joined elite company like Reggie Miller, George McGinnis, and Mel Daniels as the only players to have their numbers retired by the Indianapolis Pacers.

Roger was eventually reinstated by the NBA, but never played a game. It’s sad to think about how many years of “Prime Roger” basketball fans lost because of this grave injustice.  Roger eventually went on to become a city council member in Indianapolis, but died in 1997 of cancer before the NBA officially recognized his legacy at his 2013 induction into the Hall of Fame.

Pacers 68-70 Home Back Roger Brown, Colonels

It is hard to imagine, in today’s more enlightened era of players’ legal and due process rights, a player like Roger not being allowed to play and utilize their incredible talent. Sadly, the modern NBA’s player first mentality wasn’t always the case, and the NBA’s historical landscape is just a little less vibrant for that loss.

By Dan Ryan