Today we're pleased to bring you Part Two of our interview with JU Hall of Famer Dee Brown. Brown spent 12 seasons in the NBA with the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic. In July, he was hired as an Assistant Coach and Director of Player Development with the Sacramento Kings. Here, he looks back on his playing days and how the league has evolved from the early 90's to now. The conclusion of our interview will run next Friday.
When you came into the NBA with the Celtics, you were a key player for the team at a time when it was sort of a changing of the guard. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were still there but they were starting to get up there in years and were affected by injuries. Your rookie season was the first time that MJ and the Bulls won a title. Do you feel like the Celtics could have challenged those Bulls teams in the 90s at full strength?
DB: People don’t really remember it now, but Boston had the best record in the league my rookie year at the All-Star Break. Our coaching staff was the All-Star coaches. We were the top team in the Eastern Conference going into the second half of the season, but those three guys were fighting through injuries and a lot of the load fell to the younger guys. Myself, Reggie Lewis, Brian Shaw and Kevin Gamble were trying to make our name and take the torch from those Big Three.
I really feel like if we had been healthy, we could have gotten past the Pistons (Boston lost to Detroit in six games in the Eastern Conference Semis in 1991) who were the defending champions at that time, and then given the Bulls a run for their money. But injuries are so crucial, especially at playoff time. If you don’t have your team at 100%, it can be tough. And that was Jordan’s first championship. He was about as good as a player can get at that point in time. You couldn’t find a better player to ever play the game than Michael.
You spent the first five years of your career playing in the Boston Garden. Did you ever experience a home court like that anywhere else?
DB: No. Everyone knows the history of the Garden. You have the banners up in the rafters, the parquet floor, the beat-up scoreboard, no Jumbotron, no cheerleaders, small seats, stale popcorn; it was just pure basketball. You’d have the matinee hockey game and the ice would still be under the floor and it was freezing, but we loved it because we knew what it was about. There was Madison Square Garden and the old Chicago Stadium, but nothing beats the Boston Garden. My two favorite places to play were the Garden and the Great Western Forum in L.A. when I had the chance to play against Magic. Those places are iconic just because of how many great players played there and won championships on those two courts.
Of course one of the things you’re most well-known for is winning the Slam Dunk title in 1991. How did you plan out which dunks you were going to try going into that contest, and how long did it take you to get those down?
DB: I didn’t really spend a lot of time practicing. I remember a night or two before heading down to the All-Star Weekend I spent some time practicing a few dunks. I had two or three I didn’t use and nobody still has done, so I’m keeping those under wraps in case somebody ever asks me for them. Back then, you had to have a bunch of dunks. You didn’t need a routine, but you had to know you had eight dunks you could pull off because it wasn’t like now where if you miss you have 10 tries. It was pretty much if you miss, you’re out. And it wasn’t four guys, it was eight. So you had to make three in the first round, three in the semis and two more in the finals to win.
It’s kind of funny, I had a lot of dunks, but the one where I didn’t look, I had never tried that before. That was one I made up on the fly. So I was either going to fly into the backboard or make that dunk. Either way it was going to get talked about so I’m glad I made it.
Looking over your career stats, you didn’t come into the league as much of a long-distance shooter. Suddenly between your fourth and fifth years, you went from shooting 96 3’s on the season and making .313 of them, to shooting 327 the next season and connecting on .385. Did someone with the Celtics ask you to become that type of shooter, or did you make the decision to add that as part of your game?
DB: It was a combination of both. As you get older, you aren’t as athletic as you were in previous years, and teams try to scout everything about your game. People know you try to get to the rim, that you rely on your quickness and athleticism. So teams back off you and challenge you to shoot rather than letting you do what you’ve always done.
To extend my career and add another dimension to my game, I had to stretch out and shoot the ball from 23 feet on a consistent basis. It was just another facet of my game I wanted to improve, and as I got older and deeper into my career I just had to continually adapt. Later in my career, I had a season where I led the league in 3-pointers made (in the 1998-99 season shortened by lockout, Brown made 135 treys in 49 games).
Your NBA career lasted 12 seasons. Since you’ve retired, you’ve stayed very involved with the game, working as a head coach in the WNBA, NBDL and as an assistant in the NBA. How have you seen the game evolve from your playing days to now?
DB: The league is just a lot younger now. You see a lot of these one-and-done guys come into the league, back when I got drafted you usually stayed for four years in college and when you came into the league you were legitimately a grown man. That led to situations where your superstars were usually hitting their peak in their late 20s. Now you come into the league at 19 or 20 and you can be a superstar at a much younger age. Take Kobe Bryant for instance. He came into the league at 18 and he’s going to be in his 18th season. It’s crazy, but you’ll continue to see more and more of that.
Also the league is more athletic just because that’s become a priority across the league. There are less outstanding basketball players now and more outstanding athletes who play basketball. That’s something that teams are trying to change a little bit, hiring positions like what I have with Sacramento. We’re trying to teach these guys fundamental principles and skills that they didn’t get even going back to high school because they were too busy with AAU, or they weren’t in college long enough for their college coaches to teach them. Now they come here and they have a lot of flaws in their game and we need to teach them how to play the game in addition to trying to teach them how to play in the NBA.
At the same time, I like the direction that things are headed. You have players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose who are taking the game to another level that we haven’t seen before. I still feel very biased though; I still think 90’s basketball was the best era because of all the great players who were there at that time.