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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

P.J. Brown

Sport: Basketball

Induction Year:  2016 

Even Wikipedia isn't sure about the origin or what 'P.J.' means.

Not that it really matters.

Collier Brown is simply happy with the way things have turned out in his life, both personally and athletically.

Oh, he is best known -- make that almost exclusively known -- as P.J.

''People have always asked what does "P.J.'' stand for? '' he said. ''Believe it or not, I really don't have an answer. It's been an unsolved mystery for all of my life.''

Collier, P.J., by whatever name, will be recognized with Louisiana's ultimate honor in sports when he is inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches. The enshrinement takes place in Saturday night ceremonies on June 25 at the Natchitoches Events Center, just up a hill from the $23 million Hall of Fame museum, and only 33 miles from his hometown.

His high school (Winnfield) and college career (Louisiana Tech University) was in North Louisiana.

His professional and overall playing career ended nearly 1,600 miles away (Boston).

In between, there were exciting victories, memorable individual performances and a world championship.

Had P.J. scripted his life as an athlete and family man, things couldn't have turned out much better.

Maybe a large part of his success has been due to following a life-long axiom.

''There have been two important principles that I live by even today,'' he said. ''Always finish what you start and quitting is never an option. I played to win and always gave maximum effort in practice and games.''

He began applying those principles at Winnfield High, where he attracted college scholarship offers and wound up signing with Tech (over Auburn and UL Lafayette) as a still unpolished 6-9 inside player (his physical stature would elevate to 6-11 and 232 in the pros).

And Brown began pursuing a hoped for career in basketball as a youngster despite listing another sport as his favorite.

''I always liked playing basketball at school and on playgrounds throughout our community,'' he said. ''My first year of organized basketball was in the 11th grade, but I also tried out for the 7th grade football team. Football has always been my first love.''

Once at Tech, he piggy-backed his success as a prepster both individually and as a team.

He was the ideal teammate both in and outside of the court’s lines.

''He was tall and athletic, but what really helped  P.J. become a success had more to do with his work ethic and attitude,'' recalled former Tech teammate Dickie Crawford. ''He did not have an ego and was willing to do anything the coach asked him to do in order to help the team.  

''He was always willing to do the little things.  His teammates always loved having him on the team because of what he did on the court, in the locker room, and off the court.''

And personality-wise, he had an infectious smile and demeanor that won him legions of loyal supporters from the piney hills of North Louisiana to the Cape Cod region of Massachusetts.

''He was one of the most respectful young men that Tommy Joe ever recruited,'' said Connie Eagles, wife of the late Bulldogs' head coach during Brown's college career. ''He was kind, but when on the floor, he was tenacious and hard working.''

Brown played four seasons and averaged 10.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in 121 contests while at Tech.

He left the Bulldogs as the program's No. 2 all-time leader in blocked shots with 241, and No. 5 in rebounds with 1,017.

''In the American South Conference Tournament my junior year, we earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament,'' he said. ''I can't remember the exact stats on that game, but it was one of my best games in college.''

Brown's size and projected upside following his collegiate playing days put his name on the NBA's mock drafts and projection charts in 1992.

''In the summer of 1990, I played in the St. Cecilia summer basketball league in Detroit (his birthplace),'' Brown said. ''I got a chance to play against some pro players and said to myself that there's not much difference between us. I'm going for it. It was the first time I ever believed I could play at the next level).''

In that 1992 draft, Brown was chosen No. 29 overall, going to the New Jersey Nets.

''The biggest thrill I've had as an athlete was on June 24, 1992, the night I was drafted,'' he said. ''I was nervous and it was heart wrenching, and special all at one time.''

Brown, however, opted to tip off his professional career in Europe, signing on with the Panionios team in Greece and staying there for a season before returning to the mainland and joining the Nets for the 1993-94 campaign.

''Starting my professional basketball career in Athens, Greece was the best decision for me at that time,'' he said. ''The physical and aggressive nature of European basketball prepared me for the transition to the NBA.

''Also, the experience of living in a foreign country on your own for the first time teaches perseverance and big-time accountability. I'm forever grateful to my Greek coach, teammates, and other American players who gave me leadership and guidance in that first year.''

Brown played three seasons with the Nets before signing as a free-agent with the Miami Heat during the 1996 off-season.

It turned out to be a huge move in Brown's career, 

Heat coach Pat Riley decided to start Brown for 71 games in the 1996-1997 season and P.J. boosted his shooting percentage and rebounding, received the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team. 

He would add on two more All-Defensive Team berths to his resume: 1999 with the Heat and in 2001 with the Charlotte Hornets.

In 2001-02, he was chosen as the Central Division recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

The Hornets relocated to New Orleans prior to the 2002-03 season, close to home where Brown had his best scoring seasons, averaging 10.6 points per game in 240 regular-season games from 2002 to 2005.

During the 2002-03 season, he received the NBA Community Assist Award for the month of September and was again chosen as the Central Division recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, for the second consecutive time. In 2003-04, he was yet again selected as the Central Division NBA Sportsmanship Award recipient, for the third consecutive season and, this time, capturing the 2004 NBA Sportsmanship Award.

''The biggest responsibility I had growing up was probably trying to be the best role model for my younger siblings,'' Brown said. ''I believed that with great faith, tremendous work ethic, and humility, success could be achieved no matter how difficult the circumstances. I tried with all my heart to lead and pass these qualities to my brothers and sisters each and everyday during our childhood.''

He made a stop in Chicago with the Bulls in 2006-07 after being involved in a trade and then went into semi-retirement before signing as a free agent with the Celtics in early February of 2008.

It was a move that added the perfect exclamation mark to Brown's career.

With a key role in the front court, the Celtics gained a postseason berth and Brown made a huge contribution in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, He scored 10 points and pulled down six rebounds, hitting all of his four shots and making crucial contributions in the fourth quarter. He hit a key shot with less than two minutes left in the game as the Celtics went on to win the game 97-92. After the game, he told reporters: "That shot, hey, was probably I would say the biggest shot of my career".

He also had a strong performance in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, playing increased minutes in the first Finals game of his career en route to a Celtics victory.

And his 15-year and 1,089-game NBA life came to an ideal conclusion when the Celtics won a world championship.

He averaged 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds during his career, including nine different seasons in which he produced for at least 7.5 rebounds and 9.0 points.

But statistics, awards and championship trophies aside, Brown realizes that the success wouldn't have been possible without a strong and loving support from wife Dee, a former Lady Techster, and their four daughters.

''I'm thankful for all of the love and support Dee has given me throughout my career,'' he said. ''She is the captain of my all-time first team:  Whitney, Briana, Kalani, and Javani. Without her and my children, none of this would have been possible.''

And on the final Saturday in June, another honor awaits.

Collier ''P.J.'' Brown, by any name, will be a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.

 

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