City Paper is not for tourists
On Aug. 5, D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown told The Washington Post that he was unhappy that Michael D. Brown, a shadow senator now running for D.C. Council, was intentionally exploiting their shared name. “Political identity theft,” the better-known Brown called it.
To which I say: Karma’s a bad mothershutyourmouth. The councilmember has enhanced his athletic resume by stealing the deeds of still another Michael Brown.
Stay with me here: The very same day Michael A. protested Michael D., he left me a voicemail about a column I’d just written. The topic: Pols who misremember their athletic pasts. Brown was mad because I wrote that I couldn’t confirm his having been an All-Met basketball player following his 1983 senior season at Mackin Catholic High School. The at-large councilmember had told me twice over the years he’d been part of that elite group, which is selected each year by the Post’s sports editors.
Camille Powell, who now edits the Post’s high school sports coverage, reviewed All-Met teams from 1980 to 1985 at Washington City Paper’s request. “I don’t see any mention of Michael/Mike Brown and Mackin, not even in the all-league lists,” Powell said.
Brown wouldn’t have it. In the voicemail, he insisted that Powell and I just hadn’t looked in the right places. “I gave you several different ways to check it,” Brown said.
I called Brown back after digging out clips from the Post archives, and went over the All-Met teams player by player. No Michael or Mike Brown was named First Team All-Met in 1983, I told him. Or the Second Team. Or Third Team. Sorry.
“What about honorable mentions?” Brown asked. So I read the names of all 16 honorable mention honorees, too. No Michael or Mike Brown from Mackin. Sorry.
I had the Post’s all-league teams for the season, too, so I read Brown the names of the players who made first and second team Metro Conference, Mackin’s conference. No Michael or Mike Brown. Sorry.
But Brown wasn’t giving up. “What about 1984?” he asked me after the ’83 teams were exhausted. I thought that was odd, since he had told me earlier he graduated from Mackin in 1983. But, what the heck. He’s a nice guy, and this seemed really important to him. So I went over all the ’84 names: First, second, third team All-Mets. Honorable Mentions. All-League squads. Still no Michael or Mike Brown. Sorry.
Yet Brown had no quit in him. He said with some huffiness that he’d played in the Capital Classic, a postseason all-star game. “To be eligible for the Capital Classic you had to be an All-Met,” he said.
Actually, you didn’t. The annual game, pitting a team of the best local ballers against the best of the rest of the country, was once one of the nation’s premier showcases of prep basketball talent. Alumni include Moses Malone, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, LeBron James—and pretty much everybody else who went on to be anybody. But Capital Classic founder Bob Geoghan, of the events promotion firm Sports America, said there was no connection between his game and the Post’s All-Met list. “I picked the players,” Geoghan told me.
Still, anybody who played in the Capital Classic had skills. So when Brown said he would send me proof that he was in the Capital Classic, I agreed that I’d write about his participation so folks would know that, All-Met or not, he’s been a top-notch baller.
And then things took a turn toward—well, I believe the technical term would be “Athletic Identity Theft.”
I got a call the next day from Amy Bellanca, Brown’s legislative counsel. Bellanca said her boss had asked her to send over evidence that he’d played in the Capital Classic, with the understanding that I would write about it. She followed up with an e-mail, CC’d to the councilmember and to his spokeswoman, titled “Information regarding Councilmember Michael Brown’s participation in the 1984 Capital Classic All-Star Game.” Attached was a .pdf file of the game’s box score. Sure enough, there was Michael Brown of the D.C. All-Stars. He posted a scoring line of 1-11 shooting from the field, 0-1 from the free throw line, 2 points total.
Not a great night numbers-wise. But the paperwork showed that Michael Brown was on the floor alongside future stars Danny Manning, David Rivers, and Chris Washburn in the nationally televised game .
One problem: It ain’t the same Michael Brown.
The councilmember, again, had originally told me he graduated high school in 1983. Which would make playing in a 1984 high school all-star game somewhat odd—albeit no odder than not remembering what year you graduated from high school. So I went back to the Post archives and looked for stories about the 1984 Capital Classic. And right there, in a March 1, 1984, piece previewing the game, it said “Mike Brown” would be playing. But this kid was described as “a 6’4’’ guard from Dunbar of Baltimore” added to the D.C. team as an “at-large” selection.
In other words: The Michael Brown in the box score sent to me by the councilmember’s office isn’t the guy who grew up to complain about political identity theft. The Michael Brown who played in the 1984 Capital Classic was a McDonald’s All-American who would go on to start at Syracuse, making the NCAA Final. “Mike’s regarded as one of the best players to ever come out of Baltimore,” says Bob Wade, who coached that Michael Brown at Dunbar (and later replaced Lefty Driesell as head coach at Maryland).
With my head spinning, I called Clark University, Michael A. Brown’s alma mater, and was told by sports information director Kevin Anderson that Brown was playing for the Division III school as a sophomore in the 1984-1985 season, meaning he’d entered college in 1983. Guess that rules out playing in a high school all-star game in 1984.
I called Brown and asked why I’d been given another man’s box score. Brown blames his staff. “My staff told me they saw ‘Michael Brown,’ figured it was me, and sent it along,” Brown says. “I didn’t look at it.” Brown got Bellanca’s e-mail with the erroneous .pdf file, but says he was unable to view the document “because my BlackBerry couldn’t open it.” Unless his BlackBerry has other deficiencies, however, Brown would still have seen “1984” in the subject line from that e-mail. Yet he let it stand.
What gives? Brown says that he actually played in the preliminary game to the Capital Classic, not the big game with Jordan, James et al. That so-called “scholarship game,” which no longer takes place, was designed to give unheralded players a chance to play before the college scouts who had come to watch the main event.
On my own, I did find a “Brown” in the box score for the 1983 scholarship game. No first name was given. Just Plain Brown’s line score: 0 field goals, 0 free throws, 0 points. Perhaps that was Michael A. Brown. Who knows?
I don’t know whether to be sad or mad or just confused that a guy is sending me box scores from games played by other guys named Michael Brown, after we’d agreed I’d write about what I was sent.
Sometimes, politicians ought to just quit explaining. Before Brown’s complaint, I’d merely written that he misremembered his athletic record. After archives dives that turned up clips about both the Syracuse-bound Capital Classic veteran and 1980s George Washington University standout Mike Brown, I’m pretty certain that the councilmember was no better than the third-best Michael Brown on the era’s local basketball courts. If he keeps digging, we may well learn that Brown was not only not All-Met, but that he’d barely make an All-Michael Brown team.