It happened to more than a couple of us.
We walked the Atlantis hallways this week, looked up, and saw a healthy Chad Brown walking toward us.
“Oh, there’s Chad,” we thought. It was natural, like seeing a palm on the beach. Chad Brown belongs here.
It wasn’t Chad we saw. It was just someone who looked a lot like him. It wasn’t Chad because it couldn’t have been.
The first time Downtown Chad Brown walked through the doors of this room, he was a hulk, shredded with lean muscle, smiling with a dry joke at the ready.
The last time Chad Brown walked through the doors of this room, he was emaciated, barely recognizable, determined to live but in a fight that even he couldn’t win. He died of a rare stomach cancer less than seven months later.
Rick Fuller met Chad Brown ten years ago at the Plaza in Las Vegas. Brown was commentating on a televised poker series. Fuller was a player. They struck up a conversation and a casual friendship that lasted for the rest of Brown’s life. The guy everybody knew as Downtown Chad Brown treated Fuller like he treated everybody else.
“He was one of the nicest guys around,” Fuller said. “Always friendly. Never anything bad to say.”
In the weeks after Brown died, his friends felt compelled to honor him in a way he would’ve liked. It turned into a charity tournament that drew poker players from all over America.
“There was no way I was going to miss it,” Fuller said.
By the time the night was nearly over, Fuller was heads-up with Brown’s onetime wife, Vanessa Rousso. Fuller won.
“That trophy is actually the only one I have that I keep displayed on my desk at home,” Fuller said.
And that brings us back here to this room where Chad Brown sat so many times, the place where he belonged, the place where we still imagined we saw him.
Brown isn’t playing today, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a seat.
When Fuller won the tournament, it earned him more than a trophy. PokerStars also donated a free seat here in the $10,000 PCA Main Event. The seat belongs to Fuller, but as far as he concerned, it has Brown’s name on it.
“I’ve thought about him a lot this week and I was traveling here,” Fuller said. “It’s a real honor to be here.”
Everyone will have their own way of remembering Brown. Some people will still think they see him in the hallway. Some folks will think about the jokes he told at the table. Everyone will wish they could go up and say hello and find themselves a little sad that they cannot.
Nevertheless, no matter how people choose to remember, there is a certain comfort in knowing that, even if he can’t be here to play them, Downtown Chad still has chips in play.
Brad Willis is the PokerStars Head of Blogging