LOS ANGELES - The guy from Spanish television got right to the point.
"They say Pau Gasol is soft. Is Pau Gasol soft?"
P.J. Brown, ever the diplomat, looked his inquisitor in the eye and replied, "Pau Gasol soft? My back's not saying that right now."
Hearing what he wanted to hear, the Spanish TV guy went off in search of his next interview subject.
It was just another fun moment in the NBA afterlife of Collier Brown Jr., the man known in the NBA community as "P.J." This Finals experience is an unexpected extra chapter tacked on to the end of a professional career that began with a year in Greece (the Nets not being willing to give him a guaranteed contract as the 29th overall pick of the 1992 draft) and carried him through distinguished stays with New Jersey, Miami, Charlotte/New Orleans/Oklahoma City, and, finally, Chicago, where he assumed he had concluded his NBA work with a heroic 20-point performance in a losing effort against Detroit.
The 2006-07 season concluded, P.J. Brown went back home to New Orleans. There was a slight possibility he would be willing to answer someone's call, but it wasn't going to be just anybody. He was going to need a very good reason to extricate himself from the comfortable life he had going in the Crescent City.
"I was just being Daddy," he explains. "Taking my kids to school, going to their activities. I felt there was a slight chance I might come back, but only slight."
And then came the famous Canal Street encounter with Paul Pierce during NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. If and when the Celtics nail down championship No. 17, one of the fascinating tidbits to tumble out of this semifictional season will be the tale of how the Celtics All-Stars lobbied the veteran Yoda to become their front-court insurance policy.
Brown was intrigued and flattered. He was well aware of what was going on in Boston. He'd caught them on TV a few times, and he'd been impressed. He told them he'd think about it.
"I just needed to make sure my heart and mind were in the right place," Brown says. And then, of course, there was the matter of his family.
P.J. is husband to Dee and father to daughters Whitney, 17; Brianna, 13; and Kalani, 11; and son Javani, 6. They liked having Daddy around.
"They're a big reason why I'm here," he says. "They gave me the A-OK. I tossed and turned with this thing for about a week. In the end, everybody had a vote. We took a vote and it came out five to zero."
The 6-foot-11-inch Brown isn't doing anything spectacular for the Celtics. But, then again, he never did anything spectacular for the Nets, Heat, Hornets, or Bulls, either. P.J.'s game is all about quiet efficiency. It's about doing the inside dirty work in an unobtrusive manner.
The P.J. Brown package also includes mentoring, something he throws in for no extra charge.
Coach Doc Rivers knew exactly what he was getting. "He said to me, 'Come here and be a leader,' " Brown recalls. " 'Just be P.J. Brown. Be the guy you've been for 15 years.' "
The comeback was work. Brown jumped aboard the fast-moving train known as the Celtics Feb. 27. He made his debut in Game 60 March 7 against, ironically, the Bulls.
"It took me three or four weeks to get game-ready," he says. "The first couple of weeks were very tough. I hadn't competed since May of '07. It took me a little while to get back in balance with the mind and body. I did extra work with the strength coach. Lots of time on the treadmill."
He wasn't concerned about his offense. "The big thing was being able to get up and down the floor," he says. "I needed to be able to change ends. I wasn't worried about offense. Offense has always been secondary to me, anyway."
But he has stuck in some offense for this team, including a jumper that happened to be the biggest basket in Game 7 of the Cavaliers series. Otherwise, it's the usual diet of layups, putbacks, and dunks, most notably the authoritative flush over Kobe Bryant that capped the dramatic 21-3 run in Game 4 of this series against the Lakers.
"That was awesome," he says with a grin. "That was the 1998 edition of P.J. Brown. That's all everybody's talking about back home."
It did not take long for Rivers to start relying on Brown as his primary backup to both Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett. As enamored as everyone is of young bigs Leon Powe and Glen Davis, it was evident the coach was going to favor the guy with the 15 years of experience, particularly at the defensive end, where Brown has fit seamlessly into Tom Thibodeau's complex schemes.
Among his other assets, Brown makes his free throws. He has shot as high as 86 percent for a season, so there are no worries about having him out there in crunch time. It's all part of his consummate professionalism.
Is he enjoying all this? Here's one of the most respected players in the league during the last 15 years, getting to play in the Finals for the first time after starting out the year watching ESPN and TNT, like everybody else. Now, really. What do you think?
"To be in the NBA Finals, to be a part of this team and to be a contributor is beyond my wildest dreams," he says. "It's been great from the start. The fans in Boston gave me a standing ovation when I walked out on the floor in that first game against Chicago, and that really made me feel accepted."
He really likes what he sees when he looks at the three stars. "They have an enormous respect level," Brown says. "They really respect each other, and that's what makes it work the way it does. They're very unselfish. And this is one of the mentally toughest teams I've ever seen."
P.J. Brown really didn't have to tell anyone how much he was enjoying all this. Anyone who brings his video camera to record the scene at an interview session during the Finals is proud and happy to be there. There is no better Celtics feel-good story than the saga of P.J. Brown.