SACRAMENTO – After the Kings’ 132-120 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night at Golden 1 Center, the attention turned to assistant coach Jordi Fernandez in the Kings’ locker room.
It has been a ritual since the 2022-23 NBA season that after every win, Fernandez takes a moment to acknowledge one player for their defensive contributions, honoring them with what used to be a blinged-out Defensive Player of the Game chain which recently became a crown this season.
On a night where it felt obvious that second-year forward Keegan Murray was the DPOG, Fernandez went a different route, doing something that had never been done before.
To his objection, the Kings fittingly crowned coach Mike Brown after he won his 400th career regular-season NBA game Monday night. The huge milestone deserved a little rule breaking, and was one of the few exceptions to completely ignore Brown and his usually-respectable opinion.
“It should’ve gone to Keegan,” Brown said after the game. “But nobody in the locker room listens to me.
“ … Nick, one of our performance coaches, comes in the coaches area after the game and he starts to say something. And I’m still a little bent up about the game [and said], ‘Nick! What?’ And he looked at me and he goes, ‘Nothing.’ So then all of our coaches are like, ‘What, Nick? What?’ And he goes, ‘Domas [Domantas Sabonis] wants you to get the Defensive Player of the Game because you had 400 wins.’ That was the first time I found out. I said, ‘Absolutely not. Jordi! Don’t play that. It’s Keegan. Keegan did a heck of a job.’ “
And it’s safe to say coach Brown deserved it.
Brown was named coach of the Kings last season and his presence in Sacramento was felt almost immediately.
From his viral “turn the f–king jets on” sprint to his animated and passionate in-game coaching lessons, Brown helped spark a new energy in the 916 and bring a winning culture back to a basketball-loving city that had patiently been waiting for it.
He couldn’t do it alone, though, as he attested to in a heartfelt, two-minute-and-16-second statement while addressing win No. 400.
“Man, you feel all the emotions,” Brown began. “Fortunate. Blessed. Lucky. You go back to my time in Cleveland with [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert. You thank him and his family for an opportunity. You thank all the players. LeBron [James], Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejão, Daniel Gibson, Eric Snow. I can go on and on and on. Even in [Los Angeles], the Buss family giving me an opportunity. The late Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes.
“Here, obviously. Being a partner with [Kings owner] Vivek [Ranadivé], it’s been a short run so far, but it’s been a fantastic run so far. He’s just a quality human being. He’s passionate about Sacramento. He’s passionate about the Kings. So to be able to be in this with him and the current players, [De’Aaron Fox], Domas, Keegan, Kevin [Huerter], HB [Harrison Barnes], Malik [Monk], going down the line. You feel blessed, lucky, fortunate to be around quality people. People that obviously play at a high level, perform at a high level and are good people, too. And you’re able to be a part of it.
“With me being the head coach, I get the recognition but it has a lot to do with the people around me. Players, coaches, owners, medical staff, front office, I can go down the line. I do, I feel all of those things and above to be able to sit here and quote on quote be a part of 400 wins in this league. Because this league is hard, it’s very hard.”
Brown’s “militant” coaching style isn’t for everybody. But there’s a reason players buy in and respect him.
His résumé alone speaks volumes. Kobe. LeBron. Steph Curry. But when he arrived in Sacramento last season, he was facing the challenging task of coaching a team that hadn’t made the playoffs in an NBA-record 17 years.
The Kings were the laughing stock of the league, the bottom of the barrel for so long. But with some changes from Kings general manager Monte McNair, such as the additions of Huerter and Monk, the pairing of Fox and Sabonis and selecting Murray with their No. 4 draft pick in 2022, Brown turned things around.
It wasn’t easy, though. He pushed players beyond what they were used to and challenged them in ways no coach ever had.
Fox, for example, had the best season of his career with Brown as his head coach. The 25-year-old point guard always has been a quality scorer, but Brown is unlocking his superstar potential and believes Fox is “no doubt” on his way to NBA MVP status.
The All-NBA guard has had different experiences with leadership as the Kings have gone through several coaches over Fox’s seven-year professional career. So far, this coach-player duo might be the best. And it’s only the beginning.
Meanwhile, Brown has been the only NBA coach Murray has known in his young career. But that impact has been just as significant for the young forward with a high ceiling.
“He’s always pushing me,” Murray said of Brown. “Even last year he didn’t treat me like a rookie. He treated me like a guy who’s been in the league for five, six years. That’s all I could have really asked for my rookie season.
“So he’s going to be a guy that I’m always going to remember at the start of my career and hopefully through my career as a coach that’s had a big impact on me.”
Brown isn’t one to bask in attention or steal the spotlight, but whether he likes it or not, Monday’s win was all about him.
The Kings improved to 5-4 on the season, and will look to get plenty more wins for their coach as they embark on the long journey that is the regular season and push for another trip to the playoffs.