University of Missouri

‘Now I can die’: Mizzou retires John Brown’s No. 50 basketball jersey

John Brown on his number retirement

Mizzou legend John Brown talks about his No. 50 being retired against Ole Miss.
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Mizzou legend John Brown talks about his No. 50 being retired against Ole Miss.

As John Brown’s Missouri basketball career wrapped up in 1973, then-coach Norm Stewart decided to honor his first true star player by naming one of his final home games “John Brown Day.”

But Brown wasn’t able to fully participate in the event after an opposing player baited him into a fight, which got both ejected.

“You can’t throw him out,” Stewart told an official. “It’s John Brown Day.”

“God Norm, I wish you told me that earlier,” the official replied. “I never would have kicked him out.”

Brown had no problems with the event in his honor Saturday, when Missouri retired his No. 50 jersey at halftime of the Tigers’ regular-season finale against Ole Miss at Mizzou Arena.

A 6-foot-7 forward from Dixon, Mo., Brown was Stewart’s first star player during his historic run as MU’s coach and helped pave the way for future stars like Steve Stipanovich, Derrick Chievous and Melvin Booker.

“Honey I’m sorry,” Brown told his wife during the ceremony. “But this is the greatest thing to every happen to me.”

Brown left Missouri as the school’s career leading scorer, a record Chievous later broke, and is the latest benefactor of the athletic department’s new retired number policy, which requires a former student-athlete to meet four of 10 requirements. MU’s old policy made a player win national player of the year honors in their respective sport in addition to earning a degree. Brown became the eighth Tigers men’s basketball player to have his number retired, along with Stewart, Chievous and Doug Smith. Chievous’ No. 3 was retired Feb 19.

“I thought my time had passed,” Brown recently told The Star. “And I kind of put it out of mind. I was always hopeful. When (Jim) Sterk called about a month ago and told me, I said Jim, now I can die and go to heaven. I’m extremely happy.”

Brown never played in an NCAA Tournament game at MU as only the conference winner advanced to the Big Dance back then, and he also had to sit as a freshman because of NCAA rules.

He still went on to score 1,421 points, averaging 19.7 points per game, despite playing with no three-point line. Stewart hasn’t held back when discussing Brown’s legacy at MU, as he dislikes to wonder what would have happened had Brown chosen Kansas State over MU.

Brown was the first in-state star to stay home for Stewart and the former coach has said that he may have never had the teams he went on to have had it not been for Brown.

When Chievous’ number was retired in February, he wore a customized John Brown shirt to the ceremony because he thought Brown should have had the honor before him.

“I told him, let me honor you because he set the bricks for the cats that came before us,” Chievous said.

Chievous and Brown have a strong relationship, as Brown encouraged Chievous to go to the SEC Legends ceremony years ago after Brown was honored the year before.

A person who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, Chievous preferred not to, until Brown convinced him.

“I’m a Norm Stewart guy,” Brown said. “When you get an award, you take it and say thank you.”

Brown’s No. 50 stemmed from his high school team in Dixon, because the other four starters wore 10, 20, 30 and 40. He went on to become the No. 10 overall pick in the 1973 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks, where he played for Cotton Fitzsimmons, the same coach who recruited him to Kansas State.

After missing out on Brown at the collegiate level, Fitzsimmons called Brown after the draft and told him, “I finally got you.”

Brown went on to play seven seasons in the NBA before heading overseas for three more.

As a 6-foot-7 forward who also spent time at center, Brown has been asked a lot about how his game would translate to the modern college and NBA games. Like Chievous, he doesn’t think he’d struggle if he were still playing.

“I loved the top of the key and the corners,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of pick and pop now. I think I would fit in the latter for being able to hit shots. As a 6-7 center, I used to go against 6-10 guys every night. The thing that has changed the most is the three-point line. These days, if you can’t create your own shot, you got problems.”

Brown’s number is the last number to benefit from MU’s new policy change, for now. The department also recently retired baseball star Max Scherzer’s No. 31. Brown plans to savor every moment because Saturday has been an event nearly 50 years in the making.

“I’m just happy to join the guys up there,” he said.

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.