How the Detroit Pistons threatened the NBA merger with a sibling rivalry

Larry Brown of the Detroit Pistons (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
Larry Brown of the Detroit Pistons (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images) /

Recently, some interesting allegations surfaced regarding the Detroit Pistons. Former five-time NBA all-star Marques Johnson from the Milwaukee Bucks provided it. His number eight jersey was retired for his contributions to the Bucks organization. A heavily sought after commodity after his college days at UCLA as a player on one of coach John Wooden’s final teams, he landed in Milwaukee with the third pick of the 1977 NBA Draft.

Johnson made a revealing tweet in light of the Gonzaga versus Memphis NCAA Tournament game, in reference to former Pistons coaches Larry Brown, and his brother Herb.

Johnson credits Herb Brown, then the Detroit Pistons coach, with threatening the historical NBA/ABA merger in 1976. It also brought to light one of the most bizarre sibling rivalries in NBA history.

Long before Larry Brown ever coached in Detroit, his brother Herb was sitting in the first chair. He had a tenure coaching the team from 1976-1978 (going 82-84). During that time, Larry was coaching the Denver Nuggets, according to Johnson that’s what started the 20 plus years family feud.

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Many Pistons fans know Larry’s brother Herb as an assistant coach during the “Goin To Work” days. Not knowing about the legendary beef between brothers, let alone that Herb was was actually the head coach of the Pistons before his brother.

Herb is being accused of playing a significant role in stopping the Nuggets from signing Marques Johnson, back when he was an undergrad with the Bruins. If that’s the case, what would be the reason behind it, and why would it effect the merger? Just like Julius Erving in the ABA, Johnson would’ve provided another valuable asset for the league to use in negotiations.

There’s so many questions when reading his tweet, we’ll break it all down.

What were the Detroit Pistons status at time of NBA/ABA merger?

At the time of the merger both leagues were in shambles, however the ABA was going under, with only six teams remaining.

The Denver Nuggets were on of those remaining teams, and had their eyes set on a future NBA star in Marques Johnson. The NBA couldn’t afford losing him, not when business was tough. The NBA finals were taped delayed, the TV networks thought so little of the league’s popularity.

So they played hardball with the ABA, threatening to not make a deal if they looked to sign the future All-Star small forward. With the ABA in dire straights, they decided the fate of the teams were more important than any one player. Reluctantly Johnson never reached a deal with the Denver Nuggets.

Ironically, the Pistons had no first-round pick in 1977. So they had no opportunity to take advantage and draft Johnson.

Larry Brown’s legacy is solidified, he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Herb may have betrayed his brothers trust, costing them years of silence towards each other. It took years for them to reconcile,  and after two decades it all ended. Herb later joined the Philadelphia 76ers coaching staff, helping his younger brother reach the NBA Finals in 2001. The brotherly tandem then went on to Detroit winning the NBA championship in 2004.

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They’re better together, Detroit Pistons fans know that firsthand, but their sibling rivalry once put the NBA merger at risk.