This is the seventh in a series of profiles of the 2013 inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame:
West Memphis has been a hotbed for basketball in Arkansas for many years. Consider that:
— The West Memphis High School boys’ basketball teams have won six state championships — 1980, 1981, 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2005
— The West Memphis High School girls’ basketball teams have won two state championships — 1992 and 2003
— The West Memphis boys also have appeared in the state championship game in two of the previous three years — 2011 and 2010
— The West Memphis girls also have appeared in the finals four other times in the previous decade — 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2009
— The West Memphis boys won overall championships in 1980, 1981 and 1991. The overall tournament was discontinued following the 1992 season
Of all the great basketball players to have come out of West Memphis, Marcus Brown always will rank as one of the best.
And of all the Americans to have competed in the Euroleague, none have accomplished what Brown did. He retired in 2011 at age 37 as the Euroleague’s all-time leading scorer. During his 11 seasons, he rewrote the league’s record books. Brown left the league with 2,715 points, having averaged 15.3 points per game. That’s the second-best average among the top 15 all-time scorers.
At the time of his retirement, Brown also:
— Was the league’s career leader in free throws made with 688
— Ranked sixth in three-point shots made with 323
— Ranked ninth in assists with 457
— Ranked 10th in steals with 184
Brown reached the Euroleague Final Four on three occasions. He also had nine national championships in France, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Israel and Lithuania. Now, he has found his way into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
“Brown enjoys rock star status in several European countries,” writes Billy Woods of the West Memphis School District. “But in West Memphis, the 6-foot-2 Brown can walk the streets in peace and only be recognized by a few for his accomplishments at the old Devil Dome, where he led West Memphis High School to a 1991 state and overall championship.”
As a high school player, Brown was overshadowed in the statewide media by the exploits of Corliss Williamson of Russellville. Brown wasn’t offered a scholarship by the University of Arkansas. He wanted to play at the University of Memphis. He had attended Tiger head coach Larry Finch’s summer camp on multiple occasions, but an offer was slow in coming from Memphis. Brown signed with Murray State University in Kentucky.
Scott Edgar had recruited Brown when Edgar was an assistant on Nolan Richardson’s staff at Arkansas. When Edgar took the head coaching job at Murray State, Brown followed.
Brown would later say of Edgar: “He didn’t talk about how good I was, nothing about NBA prospects. He told me he would help me continue to become a better man and give me a chance at a free education.”
Brown was an All-Ohio Valley Conference performer three times and was twice the OVC Player of the Year. He’s one of only nine former Murray State players to earn All-OVC honors three times. He holds multiple school records, including the most points scored in a game with 45 against Washington University of Missouri in 1995. Brown is third on the all-time points list at the school with 2,236 and holds the Murray State single-season scoring average record with 26.4 points per game during the 1995-96 season.
Brown ranks as the all-time steals leader at Murray State with 232, including a single-season record of 76 in 1994-95. He’s second in school history in single-season free throw percentage at .896 and third in all-time free throw percentage at .849. He’s also second in career made free throws with 585.
Brown often saved his best performances for games against major powers. He scored 33 points against Purdue and 32 points against Louisville in regular season games. He scored 26 points against North Carolina in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
In February 2010, Brown’s No. 5 was retired at halftime of a Murray State game. His number was the ninth retired at the school.
In a story last year for Memphis magazine, Ed Arnold wrote about what happened following Brown’s senior season at Murray State: “The 1996 college basketball draft class was shaping up to be one of the most promising in NBA history. The names called out in Madison Square Garden on this night included more than a few future Hall of Famers. Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher all crossed the podium, put on caps and shook hands with the commissioner that night.
“So too did a prospect named Marcus Brown from Murray State University in Kentucky. Chosen in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers, the 6-2 guard was coming off a stunning senior season in which he averaged 26 points a game, when he had been named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year for a second straight time. When his name was called from the podium, former Grizzlies coach Hubie Brown, then an on-air draft host for ESPN, opined that ‘shooting makes up for a multitude of sins, and this guy can score.'”
Brown headed to Portland’s training camp in the summer of 1996. Arnold wrote: “There were no assurances for a 6-2 shooting guard in the NBA. Because of his size, scouts worried that he wasn’t big enough to play his traditional shooting guard position and that he was too inexperienced handling the ball to play point guard. … Brown played in only 21 games during his rookie season with Portland. He shot a consistent 40 percent from the three-point line and averaged four points in about eight minutes a game, but it wasn’t enough. He was released and signed as a free agent a few months later with the then Vancouver Grizzlies.”
Brown would later say: “I just don’t think they knew what to do with me. I think they really didn’t know how to use me.”
At the start of his second NBA season, Brown said he was “called into the office and told point blank that I wouldn’t play a single game. To this day, I just want to know why. At the preseason combine in Phoenix, everybody plays three games. I was the only guy there who didn’t play three games. I was the only guy in the league getting paid during the lockout of 1999. They cut me before the lockout, and they still owed me money.”
Having been waived during the 1998 season, Brown signed a contract with the French club Pau-Orthez and averaged 20 points per game his first season. He was named the most valuable player in the French League. He tore his ACL during the final game of the French playoffs in 1998. Brown had knee surgery in the United States and then took the 1998-99 season off.
Brown signed with the Detroit Pistons for the 1999-2000 season. He had a good preseason, but the Pistons cut him after six games.
Arnold wrote: “It was a discouraging time. At 26, Brown had been cut by three NBA teams and had undergone major knee surgery, but his family in West Memphis and the desire to make them proud continued to motivate him.”
Brown told Memphis magazine: “I got strength from my grandfather’s honesty. He took me aside and said, ‘Never bring shame on the family.’ All I wanted to do was make my grandparents proud of me, and my mom and dad proud of me. Whatever I did, I was going to put forth my best effort and go from there.”
Brown’s mother was a fixture at basketball games in West Memphis for years. Brown’s own love for the city was evident when he chose to return there following his retirement as a player and help the high school basketball program.
In Europe, Brown eventually would play in nine countries. Asked by Arnold to pick his favorite country, he said: “I say all of them because I was able to see people smile, people have joy, people fulfilled with some kind of a gratification at our victories. My experience was great. Over there you have fans who are so genuine and so true. Their excitement is so pure.”
In a 2011 story for ESPN.com, Evin Demirel wrote: “No matter the European nation in which the next American NBA player plans to make a splash, chances are Marcus Brown has already been there, done that. Success eluded the former Murray State Racer during brief stints with the Portland Trail Blazers and Detroit Pistons. He’s more than made up for it overseas.
“Consider before Allen Iverson and Deron Williams signed contracts with an Istanbul club, Brown played in that city and won two league MVPs and Turkish national titles. NBA journeyman Hilton Armstrong signed with a team in France, where Brown, a shooting guard, had also won two league MVPs and domestic league championships. Later, Brown played for CSKA Moscow and again won two league MVPs and national titles in his two seasons.”
Brown told ESPN: “Coming from West Memphis, I would have never imagined I would go to the Holy Land. I would never imagine I’d be up close to the Eiffel Tower or visit the Colosseum in Rome or the Acropolis of Greece. My time in Europe, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. My experiences helped make me a better man.”
Brown said he likes “the normal life and being simple. I just go about my business.”
He might like a simple life, but Marcus Brown is the among the most extraordinary basketball players to come from Arkansas. Now, he’s giving back.
West Memphis High School principal John Collins told Memphis magazine: “You walk into his interaction with any of the kids he’s dealing with, and it’s instant respect. He’s got their attention, he’s keeping them captive, he’s teaching them the proper skills they need to play the game and doing it the right way. With the rapport he builds and communication skills that he has, I’m certain Marcus will make a great coach.”