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‘An endearing, genuine person that you just want to be around’: Family, friends and former teammates remember life of Sam Brown

Sam Brown, one of the most decorated student athletes in Three Rivers High School history, a father and husband, passed away May 2. (Photo via Harper Funeral Home)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

THREE RIVERS — One of the most gifted athletes to ever compete in Three Rivers High School history passed away earlier this month.

Sam Brown, a key member of the 1990 Wildcats boys’ basketball team that made it to the state Class B Final Four, passed away on May 2 at the age of 53.

Brown was born on April 16, 1971 in Vicksburg, Miss., and moved to Three Rivers with his family as a small child. In his obituary, Brown was described as a “gifted athlete and a loving family man with an infectious smile,” and excelled at sports. He played on Junior Pro basketball teams growing up, and then became a highly-regarded athlete in three sports, basketball, football and track, in high school.

Where Brown excelled the most was on the basketball court, where he was a point guard that could score at will. He averaged over 20 points per game in his four-year high school varsity career and still holds the school record with 1,429 points in his career. He was a leader of the 1990 Wildcats basketball squad that went 24-2 and made it to the state Final Four, the only boys’ basketball team in the history of Three Rivers High School to do so.

“Sam’s competitive spirit was well known, not only in Three Rivers but in the Wolverine Conference and across the state of Michigan,” Brown’s obituary read. “He was known to declare, ‘They can’t stop me,’ and would have his best nights against the best players and teams.”

Brown was inducted into the Three Rivers Athletics Hall of Fame, and during his career was honored with being a member of the Michigan All-Star Team, a Michigan Top Scorer, and an All-American, along with many other accolades. He played college basketball at Northeastern Oklahoma and Ohio University. He still holds records in all three sports at TRHS that still stand today. He remained involved in local sports, becoming a volunteer coach for football and track.

Outside of sports, Brown was a family man. He married Gervine Brown on July 10, 1998 and had four sons, Corry, Samuel IV, Joseph and Tyler. According to his obituary, Brown enjoyed spontaneous weekday lunches, traveling to Hawaii and Las Vegas, competitive game nights, and was a “huge foodie” who enjoyed a good bowl of popcorn. He worked at American Axle for 14 years.

James Moore, one of Brown’s best friends and teammates on the 1990 Wildcats basketball team, remembered Brown for his smile, his personality, and his skill on the basketball court, comparing his competitive spirit at the high school level to that of Michael Jordan.

“I met Sam in 1983 or 1984, I was in sixth grade, he was in fifth grade, and we were playing Junior Pro basketball. He and Ryan Cottingham were playing up in Junior Pro, and the three of us were on different teams. I remember that smile, and at the time he reminded me of Magic Johnson; he had a huge smile, an afro, and he was extremely talented,” Moore said.

“Like most superstars, you had to play hard against him. He didn’t care what your level is, you had to play hard. You had to play tough, or he was going to make you tough. His competitive spirit was like what you would see in Michael Jordan,” Moore said. “When you see documentaries about Michael Jordan, he was tough. Off the court, he could be your friend, but when you got on the court, he took no enemies. Our practices were fierce, and it made us really good. We followed his lead.”

Brown also had a compassionate side to him. Moore said he credits Brown for saving his life while he was in the hospital after getting jumped by a gang in Chicago his junior year.

“Sam was calling me on a regular basis telling me I needed to get healthy so we could come back and win a state championship,” Moore said. “That hope he provided to me really helped me get back on my feet, and eventually I moved back up here and we made a run for the state championship. We didn’t win it, but it was amazing. I credit him for being a part of helping me bounce back and get out of that sick bed.”

Ryan “Boo” Cottingham, another friend of Brown’s and member of the Wildcats Final Four squad, called Brown an “amazing human being,” and a “fun-loving person” who “had a smile who could light up a room.”

“He had an awesome, engaging personality. He liked to have fun and joke around. He was a free spirit, and was just a very authentic, genuine and caring person,” Cottingham said. “Yet, there was this side to him as well, that he was a fierce competitor. When he was on the basketball court, the football field, the track, there was this competitiveness to him that he loved to win. It may have been ping-pong, it may have been video games, he was a competitor. But what an awesome human being he was.”

Cottingham said Brown had an impact on a lot of people, and that he encouraged people by pushing them “in a way that was positive and productive.”

“The impact he’s had on so many people for such a long time, and again, there’s a humbleness to him as well, and he was just an endearing, genuine person that you just want to be around,” Cottingham said. “Gonna miss him, and certainly his life, memory and legacy will carry on for a long, long time.”

A bouquet of flowers, a picture of Sam Brown from his playing days and a jersey with his #12 on it, was on display on the Three Rivers High School Performing Arts Center stage during a celebration of life for Sam Brown Saturday. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

On Saturday, May 11, a celebration of life was held for Brown at the TRHS Performing Arts Center, where dozens of people, including family, friends and former teammates, came out to pay their respects and remember his memory. In her welcome to the crowd, Cathy Moore-Brown said Sam Brown brought a lot of “joy” to the city.

“This town loved him. He did everything he could to represent them in the best way possible,” Moore-Brown said. “If he were here today, and they were playing on the stage, there wouldn’t be a seat in the house. I know when he played in the gym, there was not a seat in the gym. Wherever he went, there was a crowd.”

Most people recalled stories they had with Brown during the ceremony. Jay Ward, a friend of Brown’s who went to school in Plainwell during the time Brown was at Three Rivers, told the story of the time Brown dated his sister, and Ward’s dad not believing him when he insisted Brown was a better basketball player than he was. One day, there was an open gym with players from the Plainwell area that Brown participated in, and Brown pulled off an off-the-backboard reverse dunk, which caught Ward’s dad’s attention.

“My dad looked at me and said, ‘that boy better than you,’” Ward said to laughs from the audience. “From that moment on, we never talked about that again.”

Overall, Ward said Brown was “that guy” on the basketball court, and knew he was a special player. He said he would “miss him a lot.”

“Sam was the best, he was,” Ward said.

Richard Konwinski, who coached the 1990 Wildcats basketball team, said he knew Brown was a special player, and that Brown and the team around him made him a smarter coach.

“I knew what we should do is give Sam the ball. When he was in ninth grade, there were some people that thought I wasn’t that smart, but by the time Sam was a senior, I was a genius,” Konwinski said to chuckles from those in attendance. “I gave him a lot of credit, because what I learned from these guys coaching them gave me an opportunity to advance my career.”

Konwinski said Brown always made people feel special, and that he was a “special person,” giving condolences to Brown’s family.

“He’s in a better place now where he’s probably dribbling and hooping somewhere with some of the best,” Konwinski said.

Kevin Hamilton, another member of the 1990 team, told the story of a game he and Sam played against Albion at Kellogg Arena, where Brown dealt with a cramp. He came out of the game, and then later checked himself back into the game.

“He went and checked himself in and pulled out whoever was on the floor all by himself. That’s next level,” Hamilton said. “Everyone had the confidence in him in that we knew what he was going to do. We won the game, he dropped 40, and we went to the next level. That’s the type of player he was.”

As a person, Hamilton said Brown was a “phenomenal person” and was glad to be a friend of his.

Later in the service, Jackie Ward read a note from Brown’s wife, Gervine, that she wrote upon Brown’s passing. The note mentioned the Bible verses I Corinthians 13:4-8, and that she was “blessed to have a wonderful life that has a great love.”

“We have shared many years of laughter, trials, tears and some pain, and through it all, our love prevailed. You have been a good father, husband, best friend and genuine man. Our family is forever changed,” Gervine wrote. “I will never forget your smile and the way you cared for me. As we honor and celebrate you today, I can’t help but think of the wonderful and thoughtful things you would do for me. From the thoughtful texts checking in with me to see how my day was going, surprise chocolates, date nights at the movies, and when you would bring me food from different restaurants to try. Our love is real, is everlasting, and it was reflected in our daily actions. I will miss your contagious laughter and your playful manner. I will miss my best friend.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

One Reply to “‘An endearing, genuine person that you just want to be around’: Family, friends and former teammates remember life of Sam Brown

  1. I am sorry to hear of Sams passing. To his many friends and family my heartfelt condolences. my thoughts and prayers go out to all of us who knew him. I had several classes with Sam throughout high school and will never forget how amazing he was both on and off the court. I only wish I would have known sooner so I could have came back to The Rivers and paid my respects.

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