Scrubdown #2: Rick Brunson

Actual Editor's Note: Here's our friend Mase with an homage to Posting and Toasting's second favorite scrub of all time. As of now, Mase denies all allegations of drug use before said homage, though many are still skeptical. Enjoy. I sure did. Here's Mase:

Editor’s note: When thinking about Rick Brunson, I became curious as to how he became the Rick Burson that turned into P&T’s 2nd most beloved Knicks’ Scrub of All-Time.  After doing some reserach, I was able to write a semi-accurate biography on Rick Brunson, and how a rough childhood made him the scrub we all knew and loved on the 1999 Eastern Conference Champions.

RICK: Based on a true story


Eric Daniel Brunson was born in Syracuse, NY on a warm June day in 1972.  Eric grew up playing youth league basketball and was a successful point guard in his childhood.  However, Eric’s basketball career took a major turn when he and his family moved to Salem, Massachusetts when he was eight.  Because of his uncanny passing abilities and his innate ability to grow a jew-fro even though he was of African-American decent, he was persecuted among the paranoid Salem residents.  Given the town’s history as a hotbed of witchcraft and black magic during the early settlement days, this was not a surprise.  Eric spent the rest of his pre-teen years regulated to the end of the bench for the Salem Witches in the 10-12 age division of the Salem Basketball League.  During a Salem town council meeting, the Brunson family was banned from having a basketball hoop in their driveway.  Despite this setback, Brunson used the broomsticks and other witch-related paraphernalia (including a witch hat with a cut off top turned upside-down to use as a hoop) that was thrown on his yard by angry Salem residents to build a basketball goal.  He continued to practice five hours a day. 



Brunson's early adolescent jew-fro (similar to Screech's)



Though Eric was shunned by his peers at Salem High School, he still made the Varsity basketball team his freshman through senior years.  This allowed Salem’s head coach to use Eric as a scapegoat when the team lost.  Though Eric never played, he was often attributed all of Salem’s turnovers and missed shots in the box score in the local paper following a loss.  After several failed attempts to push Eric off of a cliff on the outskirts of town, the hometown fans resigned to throwing tomatoes at Brunson during home games.  Despite the ridicule and taunting, Eric made the best of his situation on the bench.  During every timeout, Eric jumped up to congratulate his teammates, even though they rarely reciprocated.  While being pelted with tomatoes, he would dance around as a way to pump the crowd up from the bench.  During the final homegame his senior year, Eric was doing his usual "bench cheerleading" routine as Salem led by one point with just 15 seconds left.  The crowd got so loud that the opposing team’s point guard was unable to hear his coach calling the play.  The point guard panicked and ended up dribbling out the game clock without attempting a shot.  Salem went on to win the Conference Championship.


During that fateful final game at Salem High School, there was a McDonald’s All-American scout named Francis McCankey on hand to see the action.  The 1991 game was being held in the nearby town of Springfield.  McCankey was searching desperately for a fill-in 12th man as an outbreak of food poisoning from bad McD’s chicken nuggets had decimated the team’s bench of All-Stars.  McCankey walked away unimpressed with the so-called "star" players in the Salem game, but was curious about the young man who keyed the final defensive stop of the game while being pelted by tomatoes.  Wanting to get in contact with Brunson, McCankey paged his head coach, asking about the "E. Brunson" that appeared on his roster sheet.  But, the Salem head coach claimed that he had no knowledge of the player that McCankey was referring to, and promptly hung up his car phone.  McCankey stopped into a phone booth in the parking lot of the Salem Pancake House on his way out of town and looked up "Brunson" in the phone book.  After wading through the broomsticks, dead black cats, and smashed pumpkins on Brunson’s lawn, McCankey rang the doorbell and invited Eric onto the team.


A bad bunch of Nuggets gave Brunson his first big break

When news of Brunson’s addition to the 1991 McDonald’s All-American team broke in Salem, many residents were incensed.  Fearing retaliation and subjecting Chris Webber and Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson to tomato-throwing at the McDonald’s All-American game, McCankey decided to give Eric an alias.  Brunson was given the nickname Rick after "Ricochet", the nickname McCankey lovingly referred to him as for the way that Eric bounced-off the bench during every timeout.  That day, the "Rick" Brunson was born.


Brunson practiced and stayed with the McDonald’s All-American team in relative anonymity for the next week in Springfield.  He was mainly used as a towel-boy and an intermediary between the sports agents and future Michigan players Chris Webber, Jimmy King, and Juwan Howard.  While cashing one of Webber’s $20,000 checks at the CashTime Depot on the east side of Springfield, Brunson was confronted by the team’s video coordinator.  Acting as a messenger for the head coach, the video coordinator told Brunson that if he gave him $10K, the head coach will promise 30 seconds of playing time in the McDonald’s All-American game.  Though Brunson was of high-moral fiber, he remembered all the tomatoes, the witch-related paraphernalia on his lawn, and the senior prom when his classmates filled his newly-purchased ’79 Ford Thunderbird with cow shit compiled from the neighboring farmlands in Salem.



Cow shit in Brunson's '79 Thunderbird was the last straw

The coaches accepted the pay-off and Rick finally got his moment in the sun.  After being inserted into the lineup, Brunson took over the game.  All the practice in his driveway in Salem had really paid off.  Brunson scored 19 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished out 6 assists, but his East team fell short 108-106 to Webber’s West team.  Brunson shared MVP honors with CWebb and won a lifetime supply of Filet O’ Fishes.  It was the happiest day of his life.     

Brunson (#12) starred in the 1991 McDonald’s All-American game


Brunson’s play in the McDonald’s All-American Game caught the eye of legendary Temple coach John Chaney, who was in need of a point guard to pair up with Eddie Jones and future fellow NBA scrub Aaron McKie.  Brunson’s freshman year was off to a great start until Temple took a trip to Amherst to take on A-10 rival UMass.  There was a large contingent of Salem residents waiting there with tomatoes in hand.  But, the crowd was silenced by Brunson’s 9 points and 6 assists in a 91-72 Owls’ victory.  Brunson went on to earn first team all-A10 honors during his senior year.


Brunson declined a summer league invite with the Boston Celtics, mostly because he wanted to avoid any Salemites that may have made their way to Beantown.  Instead, Brunson chose to play professionally in Australia due to his affinity for boogie-boarding and Bloomin’ Onions.  Rick came back to the States for a successful CBA career with Quad City and with Connecticut.  He parlayed his CBA success into a 10-day contract with Portland, which was extended into a one-year deal.  "Ricochet" did his best to live up to his nickname in Portland, but his bench-cheerleading antics did not resonate well with Portland 12th man John Crotty, and his jew-fro made the newly-acquired Damon Stoudamire extremely jealous.  Rick was driven out of Portland and banished to the CBA, where he started the 1998-99 season. 


While back in the CBA, Brunson considered quitting basketball for good and going back to Australia where he had become somewhat of a boogie-boarding phenomenon and had opened a successful joke shop called Ricky’s Trickys.  With his passport in hand, Brunson was enjoying one last meal at a Chili’s in Quad City.  Suddenly, Francis McCankey walked through the door.  McCankey told the kid that he discovered not to give up, and placed a phone call to his friend and then-Knicks’ GM Ernie Grunfeld.  After seeing Brunson play, Grunfeld thought that he could be the perfect ingredient to breathe some life into the struggling Knicks, who were hovering around .500 during the Lockout-shortened season.  The signing of Brunson paid off on the afternoon of April 25, 1999.  The Knicks were fighting for a playoff spot and headed to Miami to take on the top team in the East.  Trailing 73-58 late, the Knicks closed the game on 24-7 run, fueled by Brunson doing jumping jacks on the end of the bench.  The 82-80 victory in Miami was seen as the turning point for the 1998-99 season.  Brunson appeared in the final 17 games of the regular season, scoring a total of 17 critical points in those games, and the Knicks secured the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.  During their subsequent Cinderella postseason run, Brunson scored six more points, and was a perfect 2-of-2 from the free throw line.  Throttled by the torn Achilles of Patrick Ewing and the back problems of Larry Johnson, Brunson’s bench-cheerleading wasn’t enough to will the Knicks past the Spurs.  New York fell to San Antonio in five games.  The Knicks re-upped Brunson for the 1999-00 season hoping to catch some more lightning in a bottle. 



The rest is history.



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