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Mizzou legend John Brown cherishes jersey retirement

March 10, 2019

COLUMBIA, MO. • John Brown knew he could have an impact on the Missouri men’s basketball team when his freshman team almost beat the varsity in the Black and Gold Game in 1969.

The game was played in Brewer Fieldhouse – a great home-court advantage with a 5,000-seat capacity. At the time, fans smoked in the building, and the smoke settled into the baskets by halftime.

Brown said he scored 32 points in that game, and the next day’s newspaper read, “Brown steals show.”

“After that, the varsity wouldn’t talk to me anymore,” Brown said. “They were done with me. I felt like when I was able to do that, I felt like, ‘Yes, I can help this program.’”

Brown didn’t just help Norm Stewart’s program. The 6-7 forward from Dixon, Mo., went on to change the way the nation looked at Mizzou basketball.

Almost 50 years after that first scrimmage, Brown’s No. 50 was unveiled in the Mizzou Arena rafters on Saturday during a ceremony at halftime of Missouri’s 73-68 loss to Ole Miss.

“I made Olympic teams, I’ve been in the White House … first-round draft pick, all-NBA rookie team, and this is far greater than anything,” Brown said. “To me, what a select group of guys.”

When Brown committed to Mizzou over Kansas State, Stewart was in the hospital at the time for back surgery. So Brown signed his letter of intent in the hospital room with Stewart sitting up in his bed and “saying how wonderful it was,” Brown said.

Brown was Stewart’s first high-profile recruit, and his time in Columbia helped lay the foundation for Stewart’s rising program.

The 1971-72 team, Brown’s junior season, finished 21-6 and found itself in the national rankings for the first time under Stewart. Brown was the Tigers’ leading scorer, averaging 21.7 points per game. He led MU to its first 20-win season and first postseason NIT appearance.

When the Hearnes Center was finished in 1972, Brown’s short jumper was the first points scored in the building.

His favorite memory, of course, was beating Kansas in 1973 at Allen Fieldhouse. Down by double digits at halftime, Brown told his teammates that they were better than the Jayhawks.

Missouri won 79-63.

“That was the sweetest thing,” Brown said. “You know, you got Iowa State and Colorado and Nebraska and Oklahoma State, but to beat KU, that was always No. 1. I felt like a small part of that.”

That season, Missouri won 21 games and went to the NIT. Brown led the Tigers with 21 points and 11 rebounds per game and earned a spot on the All-Big Eight team.

Brown left Missouri in 1973 as the program’s leading scorer, with 1,421 points. Derrick Chievous scored 2,580 from 1985-88 and still holds the record.

When Chievous’ No. 3 was retired on Feb. 19, he gave Brown the credit for laying the bedrock for Chievous’ time. During his ceremony, Chievous even wore a t-shirt that had a picture of Brown, along with the words, “When greatness moves in silence.”

So what does it mean to Brown to see his number finally hanging up among the other Mizzou legends?

“When you’re from a small town like Dixon – 1,000 people, doors are not locked, basically, in those days, we had one channel on TV and nothing to do except play sports,” Brown said. “My mom worked at a shoe factory, made $1 an hour, raised six kids, and to be able to leave that situation, go to college, become a first-round draft choice, my total motivation was to thank my mother.

“She was a driving force in my success because I wanted her out of that shoe factory. When I signed my first contract with Atlanta, the next day, she got out of that shoe factory. And never went back.”

After changing the criteria for retiring numbers, MU athletics director Jim Sterk called Brown to announce the news. Brown thought Sterk was calling for fundraising reasons, but soon, Brown found out the real reason.

“I was just so excited,” Brown said. “I am still so excited. It is, from an athletic standpoint, the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”