Brown’s story of triumph and, ultimately, happiness, is an important one to be brought back to light.
By Nathan Brown | The Indianapolis Star | November 26, 2019
INDIANAPOLIS – It was only fitting that Roger Brown’s reemergence on the University of Dayton campus came not through basketball, but from a piece of art.
Those who knew him best, who commiserated with him during his low points and competed alongside him at his peaks, remember how multi-dimensional he was. Brown was a Brooklyn native who found a short-term home in Dayton and created a legacy in Indianapolis. He was an assistant coroner, a city councilman, a coach, mentor and philanthropist.
But basketball would cause his greatest disappointment at Dayton, while also providing the stage for his inspirational story.
“If you never got a chance to see him play, you truly missed an artist at work,” said Brown’s former Pacers teammate Darnell Hillman. “The things he could do with a basketball all by himself and the way he could impact a ball game were just remarkable.”
Roger Brown is an original member of the Indiana Pacers. (Photo: IndyStar file photo)
Almost no one got a chance to see Brown — the first Indiana Pacer and an eventual Hall of Famer — because of what happened at Dayton. He was banned from the NCAA and NBA because he was introduced to gambler Jack Molinas, though Brown was never accused of point shaving or any other wrongdoing.
His ABA career, however, was the inspiration for an, at the time, innocuous drawing from artist James Pate that has now helped reopen doors at his alma mater that had long ago had been shut.
Artwork brought tragedy to light
One of Brown’s long-time friends, Bing Davis, an artist in Dayton and former AAU teammate of Brown’s, had met University of Dayton president Eric Spina years ago. Spina was doing his best to foster fresh, stronger relationships between the school and the local African American community. Spina was an art connoisseur and wanted to turn a little-used indoor swimming pool in his new home into an art gallery for university dinners and receptions.
Spina asked Davis to create a two-month African American art exhibit in the gallery. But when the artist went through his own collection and reached out to those he admired most, he had a problem. Pate’s piece, titled ‘Blackballed Totem Drawing: Roger “The Rajah” Brown’, was one of the best but it broached a subject that, for more than 50 years, hadn’t been mentioned at the school.
Molinas, like Brown a Brooklyn native, was the central figure of a collegiate point shaving scandal uncovered in 1961. Despite no proven involvement in the scandal that wrapped up more than two-dozen college teams, Brown was expelled from Dayton andprevented from being drafted into the NBA.