(5/22/1942 – 5/4/1997)
Nicknamed “the Rajah,” Roger Brown, the very first player to wear an Indiana Pacers uniform, was considered by his coach, Bobby “Boom Baby” Leonard, to be one of the greatest one-on-one players in the game of basketball. He was the team’s original clutch player, the one to throw the ball to when a basket was needed. Teammate Mel Daniels once said the final play of the game should have been called “Give the ball to Roger and let’s go drink some beer.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Brown was born in 1942. He stood out as a high school player, and Brown signed to play for the University of Dayton in 1960 but was banned by the NCAA and NBA in 1961 when it was discovered that, while still in high school, he had been introduced to a well-known gambler. Though Brown himself was never accused of doing anything illegal, he found himself limited to playing in amateur leagues in Dayton at night while working in a factory during the day. But even with those limitations, Brown was signed by the newly formed Indiana Pacers in 1967 upon the advice of the famous Oscar Robertson. During his eight years with the Pacers, he led the team to eight American Basketball Association (ABA) playoff appearances, five division championships, and three ABA championships. He averaged 18 points, six-and-a-half rebounds, and four assists per game, and scored his all time high of 53 points in game four of the 1970 ABA finals, and 45 points in game six, giving the team the championship. His #35 jersey is one of only four to have been retired by the Pacers.
In 1969, Brown sued the NBA over their ban. After four years, the NBA settled, paying him approximately $420,000 and saying he was welcome to play in the league. But Brown chose to remain loyal to the Pacers and finished out his career with the ABA. Former Pacers great Reggie Miller has called him “the greatest player to never play in the NBA.” Selected unanimously to the ABA All-Time Team, Brown was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2013.
In 1971, he became the first athlete to hold public office while still playing professionally when he was elected to the Indianapolis City Council, serving from 1972-1976. After retiring from active play, Brown served as Assistant Coach to the Pacers for the 1979-1980 season and was named the 1985 Continental Basketball Association Coach of the Year for leading the Evansville Thunder. Brown was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1996 and died the following year. Local PBS station WFYI has produced a full-length documentary about his life entitled Undefeated: The Roger Brown Story.
Location: Section 75, Lot 39; GPS (39.8183116,-86.1694508)