Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown believes ‘The Beam Team’ can defy the odds again — Andscape
SACRAMENTO – While the Sacramento Kings finally making the postseason was stunning to the NBA world and life-changing for many Sacramentans after a 17-year absence, it wasn’t for the 2022-23 NBA Coach of the Year. A year ago, in their first team dinner, first-year Kings coach Mike Brown boldly told his players that the franchise would make the postseason for the first time since 2006.
And as bold as Brown’s prediction was then, it pales compared to what he predicted for the Kings at their first team dinner this season.
“I told ’em that the elephant in the room is not as pink this year,” Brown told Andscape from the team’s practice facility Wednesday afternoon. “But the pink elephant in the room is everybody’s expectations. And I told them the reality of it is we’re competing for a championship. It’s as simple as that.”
The last time the Kings won an NBA title as a franchise was in 1951 as the Rochester Royals, about 20 years before Brown was even born. Brown, however, does know what an NBA championship team looks like. The 11th-year head coach has been on the coaching staff of four NBA teams that won titles, including the San Antonio Spurs (2003) and the Golden State Warriors (2017, 2018, 2022). Brown was also the coach of forward LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers when they lost to the Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals.
The Western Conference’s third-seed Kings lost to the Warriors in a deciding Game 7 of the first round of the 2023 NBA playoffs. Las Vegas had today’s Kings as having the 15th-best odds out of 30 NBA teams to win the championship this season. But with two NBA All-Stars in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, 2023 all-NBA rookie first-team selection Keegan Murray, the re-signing of veteran forward Harrison Barnes and most of the players returning, Brown is instilling confidence in “The Beam Team” that they can defy odds for the second year in a row.
“That’s what we want. That’s what we compete for,” Brown said. “We’re already a good team. We’re already a playoff team, and so we’re competing for a championship just like everybody else. And the first thing that you have to do in order to attain anything in life is you have to believe in it. If you don’t believe in it, it ain’t going to happen.”
Brown seemed pretty content as a Warriors associate head coach from 2016 to 2022. Brown regained the itch to be an NBA head coach again after coaching the Nigerian national men’s basketball team in 2020 and 2021. On May 9, 2022, Brown was named the head coach of the Kings while the Warriors were still in the postseason.
Brown remained on the Warriors’ staff as they claimed the 2022 NBA title on June 16, 2022, in Boston. Brown immediately went to work with the Kings, moving to Sacramento and visiting his new players worldwide. In the Kings, Brown inherited a franchise that had not been to the postseason since 2006 and had not had a winning record in 17 years.
But with bold predictions like making the postseason and implementing discipline, his renowned defensive mentality, ideas from his Warriors days and an offense that would end up being historic, Brown made his presence known as a head coach from day one and beyond last season. Kings forward Murray said the players have always “had respect” for Brown from the start and that he’s built a culture in Sacramento.
Intensity is how Murray described Brown’s coaching to Andscape. “Intensity on the court, whether we’re walking through something, whether we’re going full speed. I feel like he had the same intensity throughout the whole practice. He’s just been a good coach, a good guy for the young guys, older guys. And I feel like he’s doing a really good job.”
The Kings won 48 regular-season games during the 2022-23 season, the most since winning 50 in 2004-05, and tied a franchise record with 25 road wins. Sacramento had two All-Stars, Fox and Sabonis, for the first time since 2004. Fox received the first NBA Clutch Player of the Year award. While Brown is known for being defensive-minded, the Kings scored more efficiently than any team in NBA history, at 119.7 points per 100 possessions. Murray set an NBA rookie record for 3-pointers made in a season. The Kings also won their first Pacific Division title since 2003.
And when the 2023 NBA playoffs began, the Kings were back hosting a postseason contest for the first time at Golden 1 Center and the first time overall in 17 years.
“There are a lot of things I was pleased with,” Brown said. “The best offense in the history of the game. You love that. You love Fox winning the clutch player of the year award. You love Fox and Domas being all stars. You love Keegan breaking the rookie 3-point shooting. There’s a lot of things to look back on and that you’re proud of. But just how this group was connected from day one makes me the most proud.”
The Warriors needed a deciding Game 7 to eliminate the Kings in Sacramento. Warriors guard Stephen Curry’s 50 points, the most scored in a Game 7 in NBA history, drew the headline. The Kings were up 2-0 in the series against the then-reigning NBA champs. Brown, however, is most haunted by the most notably big man Kevon Looney and the Warriors beating the Kings on the boards.
“People may disagree, but to feel like we lost a series because we weren’t able to keep them off the offensive glass when it was very controllable by us,” Brown said. “It hurts that much more. If Steph got 50, Klay [Thompson] got 35, Jordan [Poole] got 20, and we lost because we couldn’t stop all of their players, then maybe it is different. But it does hurt.
“But it’s a good hurt because Steve’s [Kerr] a great coach. They got great players and they really made us look inside of ourselves and also reexamine everything that we were doing on both ends of the floor, especially offensively, just to make sure that what we’re doing is right to win a seven-game series versus the world champions.”
The NBA announced on April 19 that Brown was unanimously named the 2022-23 NBA Coach of the Year. He received (500) points (100 first-place votes) from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters. Brown became the 11th NBA coach to win the award twice. His first was with Cleveland in 2009.
“We’re already a good team. We’re already a playoff team, and so we’re competing for a championship just like everybody else.”
— Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown
Brown credited his coaching staff for vaulting him to the award. The Kings players praised Brown, who won the 2023 NBCA Michael Goldberg Coach of the Year.
“It was big for our team,” Murray said. “It was really big for our community just to have a guy like him in his first-year win something like that.”
Said Fox: “It was great for us. [Brown] turned this whole thing around. Obviously, we got new players, same GM [general manager], same owner. Everything for the most part was the same. But what he did and just everything that he instilled in this team and coaching staff it was recognized with him coaching the year.”
Brown went to Maui and the Amalfi Coast. For work, Las Vegas for NBA summer league and South Africa for Basketball Without Borders. While in Sacramento, Brown attended Triple-A Sacramento River Cats baseball games, Sacramento State football games, local high school football games, a comedy show starring Sacramento’s own Lance Woods and a Kings preseason media mixer.
“Having Mike Brown at the show was major,” Woods told Andscape. “And not just him being there, but he was laughing with everybody, taking pictures and having a great time. And he was giving me so many encouraging words and told me how much he loved the show. That just meant a lot to having the reigning NBA head coach of the year in the building and having his presence felt.”
So why was Brown so visible in Sacramento during the offseason?
“It is natural because I have an interest in a lot of different sports and you can learn stuff from all walks of life, whether it’s a different sport, a company or whatever,” Brown said. “But there is a part of me that feels if you’re in a leadership role and you take that position to heart, people need to see you. They need to be able to touch you. They need to be able to feel you. They need to be able to feel your confidence.
“All that goes hand in hand in my opinion, with being a leader. And when you’re the head coach of an NBA franchise, especially when there’s no other [major] professional team, sports team in the city, to be able to get out and amongst the people has to happen, especially with the way our fan base is. I really appreciate our fan base.”
When Brown has been in the Sacramento streets, Kings fans of all ages regularly stopped him to say thank you and tell him that he “changed the city” for getting their beloved team back to the playoffs. At first, Brown didn’t truly understand all the appreciation. But being that the Kings are the only major pro sports franchise in Sacramento, it eventually sunk in.
“I’ve had high school kids come up to tell me that they’ve been a Kings fan their whole life and they’ve never seen the Kings in the playoffs,” Brown said. “And for this to be the first [time], it’s almost like they hit the lotto or it’s Christmastime. And I was excited about making the playoffs. It was a good year last year, but the reality of it is I expected it. So, it wasn’t a huge accomplishment. But to see young kids who — in my opinion, young kids don’t really show excitement about much in today’s day and age — to see them as excited as they are, it sets you back a little bit because I’m not expecting it at all.”
What else has caught Brown off guard?
“When people start telling me, I am just saying it verbatim, I don’t even think this way, that I changed the city. And they’re like, ‘You won’t ever understand how much you’ve changed this city.’ I don’t even look at it. I’m just coaching the team and I don’t equate it to me having much to do with it. But people will swear by it that I changed the city. And that is very, very, very impactful. And I don’t take that at all for granted. It messes me up every time I hear it. You don’t realize they were kind of like a laughingstock because it’s a one-team town. Your reputation is based on how to nationally or globally is based on how the Kings do. So now there’s more pride. I can wear my Sacramento Kings stuff.”
If you thought that appreciation from the Sacramentans was huge, imagine the love Brown would get if he could bring that first NBA title to the Kings.