Brett Brown always saw something special in Matthew Dellavedova. He knew it, long before most of the NBA did.
Before Dellavedova was an NBA champion, or internationally scapegoated as a ‘dirty player’, or suddenly one of Australia’s highest paid athletes, he was a 21-year-old college junior, playing under Brown at the London Olympics in 2012. He was just a kid from Maryborough, trying to prove he belonged on the biggest stage.
Dellavedova introduced himself to the international basketball community in London. The NBA didn’t notice, however, as he went undrafted twelve months later.
“Nobody really gave him a chance to play in the NBA,” Brown told The Pick and Roll, when asked about Dellavedova.
Of course, the Cleveland Cavaliers eventually gave Dellavedova his opportunity, and what followed has become a Hollywood-esque fairy tale.
Five years have now passed since the London Games, since Brown last coached Dellavedova. The 76ers head coach remains a fond admirer of Dellavedova and the journey he has taken. In fact, if Brown wasn’t an NBA head coach, he could easily be mistaken for Dellavedova’s publicist or agent.
“Nobody gave him a chance to stay in the NBA,” Brown explained. “Nobody could have ever imagined he would win an NBA championship.
“And then people would have scratched their heads if you told them [the Milwaukee Bucks] were also going to give him $38 million dollars. That goes a long way in Maryborough.”
Brown chuckled his way through that last comment, and added Dellavedova could probably own large parts of country Victoria with his oversized contract. All jokes aside, Dellavedova’s path to the NBA still amazes Brown. To see someone come from a rural farming district, as Brown puts it, rise to the bright lights of basketball's biggest pro league, leaves the former Boomers coach wondering.
“He’s just a great story,” Brown said. “It’s perseverance.
“He’s a fighter. He’s improved his shot. He’s improved his overall game. He’s a lot bigger than people think. When you go look at him, he's 6’3” or 6’4”. He’s got big shoulders and there’s just this innate toughness, as he wills his way to finding ways to impact the game and ultimately winning. There’s a reason the Bucks sought his services.”
Dellavedova now calls Milwaukee home, and Brown’s 76ers are headed his way for their third meeting of the NBA season on Monday morning (AEDT). Dellavedova, who is still recovering from a right ankle injury, will miss the encounter, although the Australian influence remains strong.
Ben Simmons and Thon Maker will take the floor in Milwaukee, as Brown and Dellavedova watch on from the sidelines. That places three potential starters on the Boomers' 2020 Olympics roster in one gym, in the middle of Wisconsin, of all places.
Such an event triggers a moment of reflection for Brown, who moved to Australia in the 1980s, at a time when his newfound home had never before seen an NBA athlete. For Brown, being surrounded by Australian athletes, in an NBA game he controls, is a million miles removed from his introduction to Australian basketball.
“Isn’t that life?” Brown pondered. “You know, you trip on things and opportunities arise, and you just do your best.
"Things add up, and you blink. Thirty years later and you’re coaching one of your former player's sons as the first player chosen in the draft.”
Brown has spoken at length on the serendipity of his current situation in Philadelphia. Coaching Simmons, 25 years after he was an assistant on a Melbourne Tigers team featuring Dave Simmons, Ben’s father? The situation goes beyond the unique tale of two sporting families, it’s straight up stranger than fiction.
A relationship born under the stewardship of Lindsay Gaze was rekindled in Philadelphia. It places Brown, who at the dawn of this decade was responsible for leading a national program, in charge of Australia’s most prized sporting prospect. It is a responsibility he recognises, and one that he accepts with open arms.
"He knows that I care for him,” Brown explained of Simmons, in a recent interview with ESPN. “He knows that, I too, have had a lot to do with his family, and a lot to do with Australia, and there is a soft spot that I have to help him; a greater level of responsibility. While I'm with him, I will give him everything I've got to move him forward and to push him forward when I can."
Brown remains an ambassador for Australian sport. In the past month alone, he has waxed poetically about the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to a throng of Philadelphia media members. He has credited time in the NBL as the making of his career, and he has emphasised the potential within this generation of Boomers.
The lofty praise is nothing new.
Brown was a beacon for Australian basketball, long before the Simmons family re-entered his professional life. The coincidental bounce of a few ping pong balls on 17 May 2016 – the day Philadelphia won the NBA draft lottery and the right to select Simmons with the number one overall draft pick - simply amplified his impact.
It reintroduced Brown to the sporting consciousness, now equipped with a profile larger than ever before. With a throng of Australian media members now cycling through Philadelphia, Brown is suddenly a national spokesperson in one of America’s biggest media markets.
“For a country of 24 million people,” Brown says, “Australia has produced some legitimate NBA talent.
“You see Thon Maker and that whole Sudanese community in Perth that has produced a lot of good talent.
“Then you’ve got a country Victorian, the son of a dairy farmer, in Dellavedova.
“Then you see Joe Ingles and Dante Exum. Then you see those players that are continuing to grow like Aron Baynes in Boston.”
The roots of Brown’s thriving NBA head coaching career are littered in the southern hemisphere; it’s a fact that he never ignores. The pride he has for a burgeoning basketball community - one he helped create – is profound. It’s obvious to see, as is his excitement at what lies ahead.
“The best chance for [the Boomers] to medal,” Brown says, “will be at the next Olympic Games.”
Brett Brown has doubtlessly played a seminal role in the rise of Australian basketball. From the Simmons family to Matthew Dellavedova, Joe Ingles to Aron Baynes, Patty Mills to Jonah Bolden; Brown has influenced them all, and woven his subtle magic over the very athletes who define Australia's golden generation of basketball.