The following interview occurred during last month’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a time in which many Americans get away from the daily grind. Not so for former Razorback Ronnie Brewer, whose Chicago Bulls played in Memphis.
MEMPHIS – Everything is rushed for this interview.
The reporters jam into the visitors’ locker room and mass around one Chicago Bull, then another, seeking soundbites. The players look bone tired, but dutifully dispense post-game Pez into the recorders in front of them.
This is NBA life circa 2012, on the heels of a lockout that has forced 66 games to be played with four months. That’s a game every 1.8 days, alongside a slog of hotel check-ins, arena commutes and flights in and out of cities from Portland to Miami.
And sometimes the cards fall just wrong, producing hellacious stretches like the one the Bulls are in now. Seven games in nine days, folks. Even hey-day Jordan might have had trouble getting up
Our man of the hour, Ronnie Brewer, is telling this new-guy sportswriter from Arkansas he’d love to talk Hogs, but let him shower first as time’s short. So I chat up Rip Hamilton, the veteran who divvies up time with Brewer at shooting guard. As the former Connecticut Husky munches rice and teriyaki chicken off a Styrofoam plate, he asks my opinion on Duke basketball. That engages former Blue Devil Luol Deng, who has been thumbing away on his smartphone. Pretty soon, they’re discussing some the most memorable UConn-Duke games they played in.
Ronnie, who’s reemerged from the shower, dives in, recalling the time he led the Hogs against Rudy Gay’s Huskies in 2005. Brewer had plenty time to recollect during the 161-day lockout. He often visited his Fayetteville home, worked on his jump shot and scrimmaged with current Razorbacks. “The freshmen have to step up. They’re a young team. I’m happy that they’re stepping up and playing well.” He’s also plugged into Hogs football, and in November attended the Mississippi State win, his first Little Rock game.
As we talk, Brewer sits on a locker room bench, his hands constantly pulling different articles of clothing from his locker. He puts on black leather shoes, a white dress shirt, cuff links – the man’s sartorial taste will never be confused with Allen Iverson’s.
Brewer’s eyes flicker across the room, taking it all in. His non-stop movement is a far cry from the steady gaze of MVP Derrick Rose, who is seated across the room behind a wall of media. Rose stares downward as he’s peppered with questions about the toe injury which had sidelined him from the 86-102 loss just suffered against Memphis.
Yet, it should be no surprise Brewer’s hands and eyes move so much. The long-armed swingman has built a career on superlative anticipation and reflexes. Brewer’s offense (6.9 ppg, 2.2. apg, 45 FG%) has been erratic, but not his defense, as he’s averaged at least one steal in each game of his six seasons.
“He’s an all-around really hard worker and I think that’s what makes him really special,” teammate Kyle Korver says. “He’s also very, very powerful. He’s a tough guy to screen, because he can fight through screens well.” Brewer checks his smartphone, then snatches a stat sheet to quickly appraise it. He’s not exactly staring at a masterpiece – three of nine shooting, a rebound, an assist, two turnovers and three steals. But what isn’t printed was his ability to guard Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay on different possessions, or his constant encouragement to teammates which made him an integral part of the Bulls’ NBA-best 62 wins last season.
The success begs certain questions each time the former Grizzly returns to Memphis. What if Brewer hadn’t partially torn his hamstring in February 2010, just days after being traded from Utah to Memphis? If he could have played more than five partial games that spring, would he have returned to Memphis instead of signing with Chicago? “When I play in Memphis, I’ve always had a lot of support with the Razorbacks fans coming across the bridge and my family coming,” Brewer notes.Had he stayed, might a cardinal red horde descending on FedEx Forum become a regular sight in these parts?
It’s all rear-view, now, as Ronnie’s obviously in a good place. The Bulls lead the league in wins, and with a healthy Rose could upend the Heat to take the East. That path continues the next night at home, the last stop on this grueling tour.
Brewer excuses himself; he has a plane to catch.
His world has changed in so many ways since his Fayetteville days, but he has found a similar mission with a new team. The Arkansas Razorbacks and Chicago Bulls operate at different levels, but have the same goal. These former champs are trying to recapture glory from the 1990s, and both look better positioned than ever to do it.
Weight: 227 pounds
Hog bona fides: Averaged 15.7 points, 5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game in his three seasons at Arkansas; Twice selected as First-Team All-SEC, the first Hog to do that since 1995; Led Hogs to first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000-01; Finished as UA’s No. 16 all-time leading scorer, 24 points behind his father, Ron Brewer. If Ronnie had stayed for his senior year, he likely would have finished No. 2, behind Todd Day.
Pro highlights: Early-entrant candidate drafted No. 14 overall by Utah Jazz in 2006; In 2008-09 had best season, averaging 13.7 points (on 51 percent field goal shooting), 3.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 steals while leading Jazz in total minutes played; Traded to Memphis in 2010, becoming only the second Grizzly-Hog (after Lee Mayberry).
Father Ron Brewer played some of the last of his eight NBA seasons in Chicago. The Brew-elder played the first four games of the 1985-86 season for the Bulls, averaging less than five minutes a game. His son averaged about 22.3 minutes in 99 games with Chicago.
This article originally published in Sync Magazine.