Commentary

The reigning American in Europe

However locked-out NBA players fare in Europe, they likely won't top Marcus Brown

Originally Published: July 23, 2011
By Evin Alexander Demirel | Special to ESPN.com

Marcus BrownWojciech Figurski/Getty ImagesAfter playing his last game with the Pistons in 1999, Marcus Brown sought his fortune abroad.

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, twice a Ohio Valley Conference player of the year, 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. Chris Quinn recently signed with a nearby Russian club.

Former Toronto Raptor Sonny Weems blazed an ever-widening trail this summer when he became the first player from the NBA to sign with an overseas club without the option to return once the lockout ends. Still, he's unintentionally tracking Brown in a couple ways. Weems signed with Zalgiris Kaunas, a Lithuanian club for which Brown has played three seasons. As a teenager, Weems also starred at West Memphis High School (Ark.), where Brown had starred more than a decade earlier.

Brown, 37, hasn't spoken to Weems about Lithuania, though. "I just know he's a younger kid that has won a couple of state championships," Brown said. "Obviously, by West Memphis being a smaller town, we run across each other and that's about it."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Brown
Vincent Laforet/Getty ImagesIn one of his 27 career NBA games, Marcus Brown tried to keep Michael Jordan in check. He quit that to become the Euroleague's leading all-time scorer.

A free agent now, Brown prefers keeping a low profile during his summer visits home, which last up to 50 days. "I just love the normal life and being simple," he said. "I just go about my business."

Although that workmanlike approach hasn't won him much acclaim stateside, it has made him one of the most successful American athletes abroad. With 2,715 points, Brown is the all-time leading scorer in the Euroleague, considered the world's second-best basketball league. He's also tops all time in made free throws and in the top 10 in steals and assists. The 24-team league archives statistics dating to its inaugural season in 2000-01.

Portland took Brown with the 46th pick of the 1996 NBA draft. After playing a reserve role that season, he spent the next few years in Vancouver, France and Detroit. As a Piston, he pondered a return to Europe: "Do I want to sit on the bench and not have an opportunity to play, or do I want to go somewhere and really try to make a name for myself?

"I just a took a chance and went over."

His experiences abroad run the gamut.

"The crowds are really great, they're just excited and into supporting their teams. Kind of no holds barred. It's exciting, it gets you pumped up."

"Of course, you have some dark side of it," he said, noting that in Greece, "I've seen players get hit with forks and cell phones. We've had to run out of a couple of gyms and arenas, that kind of thing."

In Turkey, "things got out of control, where the police had to come in and separate the crowds."

"Man, this is crazy," he recalled thinking. "I got to get out of here."

These events were rare, though, and nothing worse occurred. For security, local police in various countries often escorted team buses carrying former NBA players because of the expected extra attention, Brown said.

Brown loved meeting various people. In Turkey, "obviously, you have a Muslim-majority nation. But it's very friendly there; nobody tried to push [Islam] on me. Of course, you try to respect their culture but they were very open."

He enjoyed Israel, too. "It was great because everybody spoke English and all the signs were in English." He also enjoyed the pace of life slowing when businesses closed for numerous Jewish holidays.

Brown found Italians "a little more laid-back," but also friendly and, in Spain, "nobody really wanted to speak English, but I met some great people." Same situation in France, although the French "as a whole weren't as friendly as everybody else."

Brown added he also enjoys trying different foods and touring. "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," he said. "My time in Europe, I wouldn't trade it for anything else in the world. My experiences helped make me a better man."

His wife and two children visit some, too. In Lithuania, they stay 90-100 days a year, he said.

Brown didn't much enjoy his stint with CSKA Moscow, despite coffers which consistently attract the world's best talent outside the NBA. For instance, the club provided chartered flights, a perk much appreciated considering the vast distances between Moscow and other Euroleague cities. Chartered flights weren't as common with other clubs, Brown said, meaning players often had to angle for exit row seating for extra leg room. Not that Brown worried much about such travel amenities when choosing teams. "I really didn't care about any of that crap. As long as my money was paid."

That, CSKA Moscow certainly could do. Brown's agent, Craig McKenzie, said Brown signed a two-year, $5 million contract with CSKA, the largest in European basketball history at that time. "Russia was like a blur to me," Brown added. "There was so much pressure to win."

"You don't win sometimes in some countries -- I'm not naming a country -- you don't get paid or your money is late. That's just the way it is."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Brown
Juan Navarro/Getty ImagesMarcus Brown has a strong leadership role now for Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania.

In the twilight of Brown's career, the winning continues, although his role has changed as his minutes on the court have waned. In the last couple seasons, media reports have referred to him as a player/coach for Zalgiris Kaunas but he denies it's an official position. "We didn't have a coach, and they just put that [label] on me. That's a bulls--- title they slapped on me. I don't really want to get into that."

When Weems joins the team this fall, he can expect a different brand of ball. European basketball is more team-oriented and physical, Brown said. "Nobody in Europe shoots 10 free throws a game. There aren't as many fouls called, but there sure are more fouls" committed.

Brown hasn't spoken with any American NBA players contemplating making the jump abroad. "I don't even know any of those guys, and I'm sure they don't know me. I'm pretty sure they think they can go over there and turn it around or something. I mean, I really couldn't care less if they do," he said.

"My time is pretty much ending anyway. I mean, God bless them. I hope they do well and are able to adjust. There are a lot of guys in Europe who can't play in the NBA and a lot of guys in the NBA who can't play in Europe."

An influx of American NBA players joining European clubs rosters could cause reserve American players currently on those rosters to lose their jobs. Many European teams have only two or three roster spots available to Americans.

"That's not my case, but I'm pretty sure there will be some guys left on the sideline," Brown said. "Once the lockout's over, there will be some guys who will be called back. But that's the cycle."