A Champion in Many Ways
Feb. 19, 2009
Three-time Most Valuable Player. Team captain. Champion. Jim "Papa" Brewer was all of those and much more.
Brewer arrived in Minneapolis, Minn., after a successful prep career at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Ill. He averaged 15 points and 16 rebounds in 1969 as he led his team to a state championship during his senior season. He was unanimously selected as a first-team All-State player and selected as "Mr. Basketball" in Illinois.
Brewer was the first of many standout players to begin their career at Proviso East. Brewer's nephew, Glenn "Doc" Rivers starred in Maywood before a successful professional career and becoming the head coach of the 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics. Wisconsin's Michael Finley, Illinois' Dee Brown and Michigan State's Shannon Brown also made their way to the National Basketball Association from Proviso East.
Brewer was recruited to the University of Minnesota by head coach Bill Fitch. Fitch, however, left for the NBA coaching ranks before he had the opportunity to mentor him as Bill Musselman took over the reigns in 1970.
In those days, freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity squad. Instead, Brewer led an outstanding group of newcomers his first year. "Papa" scored 20 points in his debut game against North Dakota as Minnesota won by 24. Famously, Brewer went into the locker room after the game and wrote "I ain't satisfied" on the blackboard.
Brewer was a 6-9, 225-pound forward who was versatile on both ends of the floor. He not only scored, but also rebounded and defended. He complemented future stars like baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield while in Minneapolis.
Brewer learned quickly what it took to win a championship at as high of a level as the Big Ten. His scoring averages dropped over the next few seasons, but his team's successes increased. The leadership both on the court and in the locker room was essential to Minnesota's success. The Golden Gophers won the Big Ten regular season championship in 1972.
After his second full season, Brewer was chosen to play for the United States at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The U.S. lost to the Soviet Union in a gold medal game that ended in controversy. Brewer and his teammates opted not to accept the silver medals then, and no participant has asked for his medal to this day.
"We hadn't earned the silver medal," Brewer told national reporters after the game. "We won the gold medal. That's the medal we earned, so why accept something else?"
Brewer won numerous awards while playing in the Twin Cities. He is the only player in school history to be voted Most Valuable Player three years in a row. He won honorable mention, second-team and first-team All-Big Ten accolades in three consecutive seasons. He was also a first-and second-team All-American and named the Big Ten - Chicago Tribune MVP in 1972.
Brewer left Minneapolis with 1,009 career points and was selected second overall in the 1973 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and was also picked by the New Jersey Nets of the American Basketball Association. Fitch, who had first recruited Brewer to Minnesota, was now coaching the Cavaliers and was able to convince Brewer to join him in Cleveland. Fitch traded two starters to the Portland Trailblazers to obtain the second pick used to select Brewer.
Brewer's best season in the NBA came in 1975-76, his third in the league. He averaged 11.5 points and 10.9 rebounds per game while being named a second-team All-Defensive player.
"Papa" played nine seasons in the NBA with four different teams. He won an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982, his final professional season.
On March 5, 1973, Brewer saw his number 52 retired at Williams Arena. The chants of "Brew" live on.