As a guard at UC Irvine, Brooks scored 43 points during the grand opening of the Bren Events Center on Jan. 8, 1987. He was the coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder for seven seasons before he was fired in 2015, which gave him a chance to hang out at his home in Corona del Mar and focus on the future and his family.
“When coaches get fired, all of them say the same thing: ‘I need to spend time with my family.’ But the majority of them never do. They always jump right back into it. I didn’t see anything that was going to be a good fit for me, and I really wanted to spend time with my family. I lived up to that, it wasn’t just coach-speak.”
His favorite gap-year moments include attending USC football games with his son (a sophomore there), taking his daughter to and from school, and teaching her to drive—routine for many parents, but not for Brooks.
He spent nearly two decades navigating the travel rigors of the NBA. “When you’re in the mix, you don’t have time to sit down and relax and look back, as you’re always looking ahead to the next practice, the next game. The year off, I did a lot of reflecting on who I am as a coach.”
“I thought I’d have a lot of free nights, but I didn’t. You appreciate your wife more and more when you have time off because you realize how much work she does. You don’t get a lot of free nights off. But I think I ran three or four high school practices.”
In addition to the practices, Brooks attended five NBA training camps and was a regular at UC Irvine, the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship after junior college.
Arriving for a visit in 1985, he “flew into John Wayne Airport, and it was nothing like it is today. It was basically one little outdoor terminal. The coaches took me on campus. I just had a great vibe of the campus and I said, ‘OK this is where I need to be.’ I was just hoping that they’d offer me a scholarship. Two days later, they did, and I didn’t hesitate.”
That strong sense of allegiance to Irvine—and Orange County—has never left him.
“Ever since ’85, I knew this was the place I wanted to live. This area has a great lifestyle. You can get just about anywhere pretty quickly. My wife and kids love it. I know I’m away in D.C. now, and that’s a great opportunity. But this is home. Home is where your heart is, and this has been a terrific area to raise my family. I love it. What’s not to love about Orange County?”