There’s life beyond basketball
From athlete to educatorBy Linda B. Bolido
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The “Quick Brown fox” is also as wise as an owl it seems.
Ricardo “Ricky” Brown, who brought flash and flourish to the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in the 1980s and was a member of the Northern Consolidated Cement-Philippine National team that won the Jones Cup in Taiwan, beating the much-vaunted United States contingent, is now spreading the gospel of education.
Showing the same commitment and passion he invested in his sport, Brown wants the youth, in particular young athletes, to know that they should look much farther into the future than the next game.
“This is my message and my passion—the more education you have, the more opportunities you get,” he said.
Brown, who was named Rookie of the Year in his first year in the PBA and received Most Valuable Player honors in 1985 with the Great Taste coffee team, was back in the Philippines recently after 22 years.
“When I was 25, 26 years old, I wasn’t thinking about 10 years later. I was only thinking about today and tomorrow. I never thought of what I would do after basketball,” said the first Fil-Am player to join the PBA.
Brown said the transition from being a celebrity to a regular Joe—or Ricky—was not easy.
“Life after basketball … can be dreadful and very difficult if you are not prepared,” he said. “Thank goodness I had my AB degree, although it did not guarantee anything.”
Today Brown is the principal at the Faye Ross Middle School in Cerrito (Grades 7 and 8, 12- to 14-year-olds) in the ABC Unified School district, which serves students in the southeast edge of Los Angeles County in California. When he was named to the post four years ago, Brown was the first Filipino-American to hold the position. He is still the only Fil-Am in that post in the district, “something the Filipino community is very proud of.”
Brown was pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, major in physical education, at the prestigious Pepperdine University when he was drafted by the American National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets.
After he was cut by the team, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco brought him to the Philippines where he joined the NCC-Philippine National Team and later the PBA.
But, in 1988, while still a PBA player, he had to return to the US for “a very difficult heart condition.” While recuperating, he decided to continue his studies at Pepperdine and get his degree, “the first real smart move that I made.”
Before his illness, Brown said, he did not consider any other career. “I was like a lot of athletes. I was a good basketball player and that was all I saw … Like a lot of young people who have been told how good they are, you’re not thinking about what you’re going to do when you are 30 or 35 years old.”
The difficult transition from sports to regular life, he said, is the reason he is passionate about sharing his story.
“I want young people to learn from it,” he said. “The reality that you are no longer a PBA star and nobody cares is a big hit on the face to a lot of players who have been idolized for years—you get used to the star treatment … People idolize you because of the way you can dribble or shoot the ball. Then, all of a sudden, you’re in the workforce, you’re in the freeway traffic going to work and you’re bringing a bag of lunch with you.”
Brown said he never considered coaching after retirement and his decision was bolstered by what the then president of Pepperdine told him.
“He convinced me not to go into coaching as it was a very volatile career. He persuaded me to go into teaching, saying something that rang true: ‘Most of your life you’ve been involved in athletics and education so you’ll be a natural.’ He offered to pay for my fifth year at Pepperdine and that helped my decision.”
That fifth year earned Brown his teaching credentials.
Brown started as a resident substitute teacher for court schools, mentoring kids who had been jailed, abused and neglected, among other bad situations. “It was a great training for me … I was basically dealing with juvenile delinquents,” he said. He became a regular teacher in 1991.
He recalled that it was difficult to deal with the shift from hard court to classroom. “The education you get helps you but does not prepare you for that first day.” The kids did not care who the teacher was, he pointed out. “And being able to shoot a 20-foot jumpshot has nothing to do with why they hired you.”
For Brown, who became the first Fil-Am inducted to the PBA Hall of Fame, his first game as a pro was a cakewalk compared to his classroom debut.
Hard court to classroom
“My first day as a professional basketball player was full of energy and nervousness and anxiety, but the bottom line was I had such command of my abilities as a player—once I got on the floor I was OK because I was doing something I’ve been doing since I was five years old,” he said. As a teacher, when you stand in front of those 33, 34, 35 kids and they’re waiting for you to instruct them, that can go a lot of different ways and not all those kids would be cooperative.”
Teaching was just a vague notion when Brown resumed his studies. He simply wanted to get a degree the fastest way so he decided to finish the course he had already started.
Brown said while a diploma was no guarantee that it would help ease an athlete’s life after retirement, it would “at least you get a head start.” That degree would open doors, he said, that otherwise would not be open “unless you are very well-connected or your family is very wealthy—and most people don’t fit into those categories; I know I don’t.”
Two years after he started teaching, Brown was encouraged by his former school’s principal to get a master’s degree in educational administration because he had the potential to be a principal.
Furthering his education, Brown recalls, was quite difficult since he had to teach and be a father to two young boys at the same time. But he is thankful he did it.
In his fourth year as a teacher, he was appointed assistant principal. After 12 years, he was named principal of the middle school.
With some 20 percent of the 700 or so students at his school being of Filipino descent and many of the parents knowing him as a former basketball star, there is some residual fame.
“The Filipinos around my school know me and I get a taste of that ‘celebrity’ but it’s very, very different … You are now working just like everybody else, and not just two hours a day … those five days when you are dealing with kids, teachers and parents are very challenging.”
Brown said returning to the US led him to education.
“In hindsight, if I made the transition here (after retirement at 34), I would not have gone into education,” he said. “I probably would have gone to work for one of the companies I played for. It would probably have been easier but I don’t know if it would have been better.”
And yet having to leave the Philippines was his one tremendous regret. “It’s very, very special to me,” he said. “Something in my heart calls me back here.”
Brown said his years as a basketball player helped him as a teacher and administrator.
“A lot of the work ethic and discipline transferred from being an athlete to being an administrator,” he said. “As a principal, you need a very solid work ethic to remain disciplined, to be poised at all times, even when you have parents angry and screaming in your office …. As in basketball, with only 10 seconds to go and the game is tied, you can’t panic. You need to maintain control and your poise.”
The other important thing he learned from his playing days, he added, was the idea that if he wanted to get better at anything, he had to work at it. “It’s not going to happen by itself.”
Like every good educator, Brown is gratified when students thank him for everything he did for them and for inspiring them to be successful and to get on the right track. He is also finding out that even his playing days have been instructive and inspiring for many youngsters.
On the social networking site Facebook, he said, young people would tell him they had been inspired to be successful and to work hard just by watching him play.
“I’ve been blessed in that regard,” he said. “I’ve had success in both of my careers and, most importantly, I brought joy and inspiration to many people. That’s what really makes me feel good about what I’ve done and what I’m doing.”