Two USD alumni coaching in NBA playoffs
The National Basketball Association Playoffs started about a month ago, and there is no shortage of former Toreros. Mike Brown, a USD grad who is the head assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors, now has the opportunity to lead the Warriors to an NBA championship. His competition includes another former Torero, James Borrego, who is an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
The Warriors are the number one overall seed in the entire playoffs, giving Brown a unique opportunity to lead one of the best teams in league history. Brown took over for Steve Kerr, who is dealing with complications from a back surgery that he had two years ago.
Brown inherited the team as interim coach in the final game of their first round series against the Portland Trailblazers.
USD alumnus James Borrego is an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Brown may be an assistant like Borrego, but he has a little more experience in the NBA.
Brown started his basketball career playing for the Toreros. He played two seasons at USD and graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
In 2000, Brown got his first experience as a coach when he was hired by Gregg Popovich as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs.
In June 2005, Brown replaced Brendan Malone for his first head coaching job with the Cleveland Cavaliers, becoming the second youngest coach in the league at the time.
As Brown gained fame among NBA fans, many of them began affectionately referring to him as “Potato Head,” in reference to the popular toy. On June 2, 2007, Brown’s Cavaliers defeated the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and advanced to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
In 2009, Brown was named the NBA Coach of the Year after guiding the Cavaliers to a franchise-best 66-16 record.
On May 13, 2010, Brown and his Cavaliers were eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. With this loss, the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to accomplish back-to-back seasons of at least 60 wins and not advance to the NBA Finals in either. The disappointing playoff exit resulted in Brown’s dismissal after the season.
Brown’s next job in the NBA was being the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011. His first season was shortened to 66 games because of the lockout that season, and the Lakers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.
Before the 2012-13 season, the Lakers acquired All-Star players Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, which gave them a starting lineup of five former All-Stars.
Even though they were considered top title contenders, the Lakers struggled all season.
Brown only got to see the first five games. In 2012, Brown was fired by the Lakers. His dismissal after five games was the third-fastest coaching change in NBA history.
Brown was again hired shortly thereafter by the Cavaliers, with Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, calling his past firing a mistake. For the first time as a head coach, Brown’s team posted a losing record over an 82-game season.
In May of 2014, he was fired by Gilbert for a second time. In July of 2016, the Warriors hired Brown as an assistant coach, replacing Luke Walton.
James Borrego has not had the coaching experience that Brown has. He is younger, but he is getting off to a good start. Borrego played three seasons with the Toreros, and he was named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic Team during his senior season.
Borrego began his coaching career with the Toreros as an assistant from 2001 to 2003. During his tenure as an assistant, San Diego captured the West Coast Conference Championship and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament in the 2002-03 season.
After his coaching stay with the Toreros, Borrego began his career in professional basketball with the San Antonio Spurs, just like Brown.
Borrego started as an assistant video coordinator in the summer of 2003 and was promoted to assistant coach shortly afterward. He spent seven seasons with the Spurs and was part of two NBA Championship teams in 2005 and 2007.
From there, Borrego left to join former Spurs’ assistant Monty Williams when Williams took the head coaching job with the New Orleans Hornets from 2010 until 2012.
Afterward, he joined Jacque Vaughn as the lead assistant for the Orlando Magic. Borrego took over for the Magic when Vaughn was fired in February 2015.
Last June, Borrego returned to the Spurs as an assistant coach for Popovich.
Even though Brown and Borrego have different roles, it is inspiring to see Torero basketball represented on the highest level. Maybe through all this, Brown will get another chance at a NBA head coaching gig. The Spurs always have assistant coaches being poached to be coaches for other teams. Maybe Borrego will be the next one to be chosen.
Both of these guys have tremendous experience as coaches in the NBA, and it’s clear that USD basketball breeds quality NBA coaches.
Written by Jake Ellis, Contributor