What does "Guilty Pleasure Player" say to you? For me, this is a player with flaws that you were prepared to overlook due to some of their more redeeming qualities. As you grow older, priorities change and those things that were once most important to you become less meaningful. I can sense a pattern forming here, as much of Celticsblog's battle-tested writing staff may have loved a guy that was flashy and exciting when they were younger, whereas now fundamental skills, defensive effort and basketball IQ - the things which a young fan will usually overlook - have now become paramount. I am no different.
1991 was a long time ago. How long? Well, living in the UK, there was no offseason coverage whatsoever, so to see what the Celtics had done during the offseason, you pretty much had to watch the first game and see who showed up. Contrast that with this offseason, where I'll routinely make several trips online per day for the most insignificant of updates. I've often wondered what it would be like to go completely "Cold Turkey" for the offseason, especially as the stress involved mounts year-on-year. Maybe next year, I'll avoid the entire offseason and see who shows up in November 2011, just like I did 20 years earlier, when one of the guys who showed up was a skinny 6'1" rookie called Dee Brown.
The first few times I saw Dee Brown play, he was unremarkable, although I already preferred him to Brian Shaw. Then he showed me something I'd rarely seen a 6'1" guard do in a game. A shot bounced high off the rim and Dee jumped up, hung in the air for a split-second longer than everybody else and powered home a soaring dunk at full stretch. For me, it was love at first flight.
From that point on, from the time I got home from school to the time it was too dark to see, I was Dee Brown. I tried to replicate all his moves on my driveway. I bought his jersey and wore it so often that it faded to teal. I started bringing some of his moves onto the court and arguing with my friends about how good he could be. Every time the Celtics played, I hoped he'd get a breakaway or something, so that he could throw down another dunk for me to try to copy. That would almost make up for it if the Celtics lost.
Bird will always be my favorite basketball player of all-time and Reggie was unquestionably the best player on the team for the 1992 and 1993 seasons. I loved those guys and still do - how could you not? With Dee, it was different. He was less fashionable, not as famous and whenever he showed up on a highlight reel, I'd feel proud. It was like being the fan of a cult band or a cult TV show that not everyone fully appreciated.
At the time, it was pretty rare for a guy of Dee's size to routinely dunk the ball in a game. The Celtics even used to run backdoor plays for him and throw him alley-oops. He would show creativity on the break and often dunked on people that were much taller than him, which is always a spectacular sight. While there were a couple of other guys his size that were capable of doing those sorts of things (unlike today, when practically every team has a guy like Rondo), Dee was perhaps the most high-profile at the time. When he won the dunk contest with as creative an array of dunks as the contest had seen since it's infancy, it was one of the most exciting moments of my childhood. I even still have my Dee Brown Reebok Pumps - the ones with his logo, not the ones he wore (and memorably pumped up) when he won the contest.
It was not all about the dunking, though. To remember him just as a dunker does him a disservice. He also became a very good shooter with heart and defensive abilities. Though he lacked point guard skills, he also lacked two-guard size, so was a classic tweener (to be cruel) or combo-guard (to be kind). As a rookie, he was lucky enough to get to play with Larry Bird, so could easily handle the back-up point guard duties, since most of the offense went through Larry anyway. After acquiring Sherman Douglas, the Celtics experimented with Dee at the shooting guard spot. He handled this better than most guys his size would have been able to, but ultimately the Celtics backcourt was too undersized and this slowed down his progress as a point guard, something the Celtics went back to later on.
Being forced to play the two-guard position basically meant he would be facing a height mismatch every night. However, for all the highlight dunks he had, he had just as many highlight blocks, sending back guys like Cedric Ceballos, Harold Miner and even Michael Jordan when they tried to shoot over him and coming from the weakside to surprise guys like Ric Smits and Patrick Ewing. He even had a flying, two-handed block on Kendall Gill in the 1993 playoffs, where he had to duck his head down to avoid hitting it on the backboard. This was an inspiration to me, as I would go on to play in a league where I was routinely matched up against guys up to eight inches taller than me. Although Dee was able to hold his own against those bigger guys (and was equally adept at pressurizing quicker point guards), he was probably too slight to play the position for extended periods of time.
Still, he did what was asked of him and took on those tough mismatch assignments to enable a point guard to play alongside him in the backcourt. This allowed him to develop as a scorer, which led to him being the Celtics' leading scorer in 1993/1994 and actually having a legitimate case for an all-star berth. No? Check this out...
Dee Brown - PPG - 15.5, FG% - 48.0, 3.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals, 1.6 turnovers, 47 blocked shots
BJ Armstrong - PPG - 14.8, FG% - 47.6, 2.1 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.6 turnovers, 9 blocked shots
Guess which one made the all-star team that year. (Clue: It was the one who was wide open on every possession because he was the 4th most dangerous offensive threat on his team.) Dee underlined this point by outscoring Armstrong 40-16 in an important late-season win at Chicago Stadium.
This was also the point at which the backlash against Dee Brown started to take hold. He had planned to test the free agent market that year, but the Celtics instead rewarded him with the richest contract in Celtics history ($20m over six years...hey, I told you this was a long time ago). Instead of being a promising young player, he was now a highly-paid veteran and was named as a captain and relied upon to lead the team. This was perhaps a bridge too far, especially with the inferior talent around him. I think the fact that he was the face of the franchise while the team started to struggle, after having enjoyed such a prolonged period of success, hurt how his contribution to Celtics history will be remembered. There was frustration at times (although he wasn't the first and won't be the last Celtic, including many greats, to display this), which also must have tried the fans' patience. Dee remained a favorite of mine, though.
What I'll always remember Dee Brown for is an example of what is often overlooked when reflecting on his career. Since he was able to play with Bird, McHale, Parish and Lewis, Dee had an idea of what Celtics pride was all about. He was on the floor when Larry returned from his fractured cheekbone to inspire the Celtics to a deciding-game win over the Pacers in the 1991 playoffs. He was one of six Celtics that played the entire game as the overmatched and injury-plagued Celtics sent game six of the Detroit series that followed into overtime and almost forced a game seven at the Garden. He watched Reggie become a star during the 1992 playoffs. He saw, first hand, both Kevin McHale and Larry Bird's emotional last hurrah at the Garden. As the Celtics played what would be their last ever game at the Old Garden, Dee was the last true remaining link to that era and played with what can only be described as "Celtic Pride".
The Celtics were completely overmatched against Shaq and the top-seeded Orlando Magic (who would go on to reach the NBA finals). Boston had added veterans like Dominique Wilkins, Blue Edwards, Derrick Strong and Pervis Ellison, none of whom had lived up to expectations, so they crept into the postseason with the eighth seed and, to nobody's surprise, lost game one by an embarrassing 47 point margin. After Boston pulled out a gutsy (and shocking) win in game two, the Magic regrouped to win games three and four by a combined eight points, clinching the series and closing the Boston Garden for good.
The Celtics didn't go down without a fight though, falling just short after Dee sparked a furious late rally in both games, with the raucous crowd giving the Old Garden a noisy send-off. In that final game, Dee took a huge tumble, landing on his head while contesting a rebound, but this didn't slow him down. He was all over the place, diving on the floor with reckless abandon and getting knocked around like a pinball. He memorably came from nowhere for a spectacular chasedown block (before such things existed) on Brian Shaw, which - even though it was incorrectly called as a foul - was the loudest I had heard the Garden for a few years. Dee finally fouled out with a few minutes to go, having played his heart out in what TNT announcer Dick Stockton called a "courageous, magnificent performance". That's what I choose to remember him for.
His time as a Celtic came to an end in the 1997/98 season, as the Celtics hired Rick Pitino and started to rebuild. Dee's minutes started to diminish and he requested a trade. However, he had a storybook ending to his days in Boston, exploding one last time for 22 fourth quarter points (including six threes in the quarter, the last of which was a ridiculous shot) in a 32 point performance that led the Celtics to a win over the Mavericks and left the game in the closing seconds with fans chanting his name and giving him a big standing ovation. Days later, he would be traded.
Since retiring from basketball, Dee has done a variety of things, including coaching, TV analysis, player development and being a part-time blogger for Hoopshype that accidentally (apparently) kept referencing a Marty Colon, but I'll always remember him as a true Celtic.
While Dee was still a member of the Celtics, I was amazed to be able to get a chance to meet him when I flew over to Boston and attended the camp sponsored by himself and Robert Parish (who I was just as excited to meet). I got to speak with Dee on a couple of occasions over those two weeks, but the thing I will remember most was at the end of the first week when he offered to play one-on-one against one of the other kids. The kid, who was probably about 13, got the ball, dribbled to the left elbow - which was just a few feet away from where I was standing - and shot a stepback jumper. Dee elevated off two feet and caught the ball at waist level! I was 5'9" at the time and I swear his feet were level with my head. I've seen and even played both with and against many guys that can really fly since then, but I have never seen anyone jump like that. It was like something out of NBA Jam. Something like that is going to stay with you.
Now that I am older and (presumably) wiser, I understand better my childhood hero's flaws. Maybe he wasn't as great as I thought he would become, but I'd still take that guy on my team any day.