COLUMBIA, Mo. - On Tuesday, April 24, 1973, the Atlanta Hawks selected an All-American and Olympian from humble beginnings in rural Missouri with the 10th pick in the NBA Draft. In the ensuing days, legendary Missouri Hall of Famer John Brown would sign a $1 million, six-year contract with the Hawks – the largest NBA contract ever signed by a Mizzou player at the time, worth nearly $6 million in 2020.
Now, Brown is giving it back. The Dixon, Missouri, native has donated $1 million to Mizzou Athletics to make a significant difference, pave the way for future student-athlete success and set an example for those financially able to give.
“The University of Missouri means so much to me, and that coupled with my strong relationship with Coach Norm Stewart - I just felt strongly it was time to make a commitment to my alma mater,” Brown said. “We are living through difficult times, and Mizzou, like schools around the nation, is facing unprecedented financial hardship. If you’ve been fortunate enough to have a financial situation that allows you do to so, now is the time to give back.”
Brown was raised by a single mother of six kids. She made one dollar per hour working at a shoe factory to put food on the table and keep a roof over her family’s heads. It was her sacrifices that allowed John to have opportunities and her sacrifices that gave him the drive to use athletics as a way to help his family.
Then came Norm. The legendary leader of young men at Mizzou recruited and signed Brown to play for the Tigers. The rest is history. From 1969-73, Brown would become a dominant force, completing his career as Mizzou’s all-time leading scorer at the time with 1,421 points in just three seasons.
He was a two-time All-American and All-Big Eight honoree, leading Mizzou to its first-ever 20-win seasons in 1972 and 1973. Brown earned a spot on the 1972 United States Olympic team before being drafted by the Hawks in 1973. Through it all, Brown credits the leadership of Norm and his time at Mizzou for all the professional success.
"As an athlete, it’s so important that your coach believes in you,” Brown said. “I always felt that Coach Stewart truly believed in me and knew how to get the best out of me and our teams," Brown said. "He taught us to be tough on the court, but at the same time, he wanted us to do it in the right way. I can't say enough about Coach Stewart and how he affected my life."
Now through his donation, Brown wants to ensure he helps the next generation of student-athletes have the same opportunities he was afforded at Mizzou. One of the greatest players to ever step foot in Columbia understands that the selfless giving from people in the Mizzou community makes all the difference for today’s student-athletes.
“To be honest when I was playing at Mizzou, I didn’t appreciate the fact that so many donors were giving money selflessly for me to have a scholarship,” Brown said. “It takes people to make that commitment whether it’s making donations or being multi-year season ticket holders. That allows athletes to have the help they need to attend college.”
Brown’s $1 million donation comes on the heels of a historic moment for Mizzou Basketball on March 9, 2019. Brown became the seventh player in program history to have his jersey memorialized in the Mizzou Arena rafters that afternoon. His No. 50 joins a pantheon of Tiger greats and will ensure his legacy is cemented forever.
“Without question, it’s the number one thing to happen to me in my career, and that’s saying a lot with the things I’ve been able to do especially with the Olympics,” Brown said. “It’s something that will always be there. People 20-50 years from now may not know John Brown, but for my family and their grandchildren and generations to come, that Number 50 will be there and that means so much to me.”
Brown has used the unforgettable life lessons from his mother, from Norm and from his time at Mizzou to put together a very successful business career outside of hoops. He says he’s thankful to be so fortunate and have the ability to give back, but hopes his donation can be the tip of the iceberg for former athletes to join him.
“I’ve worked hard in my life and I’m to the point where I could do this,” Brown said. “Not all former athletes are in a position yet once they leave Mizzou to make a large contribution, but I don’t believe there’s any contribution that’s too small.”
Brown’s historic legacy has already been ingrained at Mizzou, but now it will also live forever through his children.
"My wife, Brenda, and kids, Megan, Madison, and John are thrilled to be part of the Mizzou family,” Brown said. “Brenda graduated from Mizzou, Megan is a sophomore, and Madison will be attending next year. I am so very proud of them and honored to be their husband and dad."
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