Wayne Brabender: An atypical star

The personal ID card of Wayne Brabender says that he was born on October 16, 1945 in Montevideo. The first association would be Uruguay, but not at all. In the state of Minnesota, in the United States, there is another Montevideo which probably would have never entered sports history without Brabender.

When he was just seven years old, his first coach Terry Donay taught him his first steps in a sport called basketball and, somehow, decided the future of the blond and thin kid who, judging by his physical attributes, probably shouldn’t have had a bright career in a sport normally reserved for bigger and stronger men. However, since the very dawn of his career, Brabender was just a different kind of player. With a good technique, solid jumping ability, great defense and, most of all, an excellent shot, he would become the best player on his high school team.

At 22 years old he was already a physical education teacher, but his immediate future would be involved with basketball, no doubt. In the 1967 draft, the Philadelphia 76ers picked him with number 145, but destiny would have different plans for the young Brabender.

Pedro Ferrandiz, the visionary

The legendary coach of Real Madrid Pedro Ferrandiz was a pioneer in many things, especially for bringing in good American players to Europe. Ferrandiz just didn’t trust anyone. If he heard rumors about a player being good, he had to go see for himself. Then, he would use the trip to see a few more players to make it worthwhile. No middle men, no agents, videos didn’t even exist. Don Pedro prepped up his suitcase and toured the USA. More often than not, he was back to Madrid with a future star.

When he saw Brabender he had no doubts about it: that was the player he needed to fill the spot of second foreigner in the European Cup. The legend goes that when Ferrandiz knocked on the door of Brabender’s house, Wayne himself opened the door and Ferrandiz asked him if he had an older brother because the young man seemed even smaller than when he was on court. After working the misunderstanding out, one of the better and most profitable contracts ever in Real Madrid was put to paper.

On August 26, 1967, young Wayne Brabender landed in Madrid and started his Spanish adventure, which has now lasted 45 years and counting. Everyone in Madrid was surprised, from the club itself to the media, by the looks of the new American, because normally Ferrandiz was seeking big men. Also, Real Madrid already had Miles Aiken for the Spanish League, so it was planned that Brabender would only take part in the European competition, on which the team placed so many aspirations. It wasn’t easy at all to play only in Europe or practice all alone on the weekends, when the team was elsewhere playing in the domestic championship, but Brabender took it all while the club also showed patience with him.

In the traditional Real Madrid Christmas tourney of 1967, the American rookie exploded with 30 points while showing great qualities on offense. His outside shot was perfect and he was a great complement for the inside game of Aiken and Clifford Luyk. Right off the bat, Ferrandiz, backed by manager Raimundo Saporta, realized that Brabender could be an enormous addition to the team so they proposed him the possibility of getting him a Spanish passport. He accepted the offer and soon, Spain gained a great player.The fact that Brabender still lives in Spain today proves that, unlike the current situation in which passports from different European countries are handed away like lottery tickets, it was a true nationalization.

On May 10, 1969, Wayne Brabender made his debut with the Spanish national team in Badalona against Cuba. He played 90 seconds. A little later, in a EuroBasket qualifying tournament played in Mataró, Spain, against Belgium he suffered an injury on his knee ligaments and had to be sidelined for 10 months, but he persevered and returned to Real Madrid and the national team. In the 1973 EuroBasket in Barcelona, he was part of the Spanish team that won its first medal (silver) since the historic one in Geneva in 1935. In the title game, Spain fell to Yugoslavia, who won its first continental title, 67-78, but his 20 points – a little over his 19.3 average in the tourney – confirmed that Spain indeed had a great new star.

I saw Wayne Brabender countless times on TV, but I think that the first time I saw him live was in the Belgrade EuroBasket in 1975, also two years later in Belgium and also in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, where Spain finished fourth. I still remember his incredible game and his 30 points against Yugoslavia, the future Olympic champ, who had many problems to win 95-91. Chicho Sibilio added 23 points for Spain while on the other side there was the great duo of Dragan Kicanovic (25) and Drazen Dalipagic (24).

 

 

Titles non-stop

With the Spanish national team he played 190 games, but it was Real Madrid that took more advantage of his qualities. During his 16 years with the Whites, something that looks like an eternity today when players change clubs often, he won 13 Spanish Leagues, 10 of them in a row from 1968 to 1977, seven Spanish Cups, three Intercontinental Cups (1976, 1977 and 1978 always scoring more than 20 points in each final) and four European Cups, the equivalent of today’s Eurolegue. Real Madrid was, without a doubt, the strongest team in Spain back then and it didn’t need much to win national titles, but to compete with Ignis Varese, CSKA Moscow or Maccabi Tel Aviv, the latter of which was starting to show great ambitions in the early 1970s, they needed a great player like Wayne.

The first European title with him in the team came in 1968 in Lyon, France against Spartak Brno of Czechoslovakia by98-95 with 26 points by Aiken and 22 by Brabender. The following European crown would arrive on April 11, 1974 in Nantes against Varese in a very balanced game that finished 84-82. Brabender scored again 22 points, Walter Sczerbiak and Luyk had 14 each while on the other side, the “magnificent trio” of Dino Meneghin (25), Bob Morse (24) and Manuel Raga (17) kept hopes alive for their team until the final moment.

Four years later, the same rivals met again in the Munich final. Real Madrid won 75-67 with 26 points by Szcerbiak and 16 by Brabender. His last European title was on May 27, 1980 in Berlin against Maccabi (89-85) with 27 points by Rafa Rullan and 12 by Brabender.

He played in Real Madrid until the end of the 1982-83 season and put an end to his brilliant career with Caja Madrid playing two more seasons. When he retired in 1985 he was 39-and-a-half years old. His ACB stats hardly reflect the impact that Wayne Brabender had in Spanish basketball. The league was born in 1983 in the twilight of his career, and only the press archives from the seventies and the memories of those lucky enough to have seen him play offer the actual testimony about this great player and a person that could set example in just about anything.

He was an atypical star, especially because of his modesty. He was a loved person by his teammates and respected by rivals. I remember some talks I had with the late Mirza Delibasic about the friendship he had with Brabender and his family, and how they helped Mirza to adapt when he signed for Real Madrid.

After a great career as a player, Brabender stayed in basketball as a coach. He worked in Real Madrid, CB Canarias, Forum Valladolid and CB Illescas. His son, David, was born in Madrid in 1970 and also played in the Spanish League for 12 years. The Brabenders, especially Wayne, have left their imprint on Spanish basketball.

(March, 2013)