Continuing our off-season interview series, RaptorsHQ's ace correspondent Ray Bala touches base with yet another Toronto Raptor alum, this time, former Slam Dunk Champ Dee Brown...
If you were to walk through the list of noteable ex-Raptors the list wouldn't be very long.
Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Charles Oakley, JYD, Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Alvin Williams, Dell Curry and Mo Pete would be among the notables but many forget some of the true stars of Toronto's first era of NBA ball.
That list would include names like Alvin Robertson and of course, Dee Brown.
RaptorsHQ's Ray Bala caught up with the former Dinos' 3-point specialist recently in his new role as coach and GM of the D-League's Springfield Armor...
Raptors HQ: I remember you as a rookie in the NBA and my favorite memory of you is the two-handed block you put on Larry Johnson in a game. I don't know if you remember that?
Dee Brown: (laughing) Yeah, I do remember that!
HQ: They call you for goaltending the play before, you came back and put a two handed block on LJ. That was insane. You were one of my favorite players from that point on. There is no way that someone six foot should be blocking someone with two hands that high!
DB: (Still laughing)
HQ: Now I want to first go into your affiliation with the Reebok Pump. Was the situation with the Pump at the Dunk Off, was that a conscious thing you did or was that something you were doing for the fans?
DB: I was doing it for the fans really. I was already a Reebok sponsored athlete so I wasn't trying to get a Reebok contract. It was something for the show. People like to see things like that, especially back then. I think I started the whole playing to the crowd more, getting people involved. People were excited about the dunk contest back then anyway, but to do something different was more the key (behind) doing that.
We still talk about it to this day because I kinda started what people call the shoe wars at that time. Nike was the big brand, Converse was kinda small. Once I did that, Reebok and Nike were the two top shoes. Obviously people were wearing Jordans at that time but people started wearing pumps at that time just because of the dunk contest and what I did.
HQ: That's an iconic image of you in the pose of the no-look dunk. Were you ever scared during the moment?
DB: Naw, I was scared I was going to hit the backboard! I had never tried that dunk before and it was the first time I ever did it. I made it up on the spot so it wasn't like I practiced the dunk. I didn't know what to expect. I was either going to be the hero, win the contest and talk about it twenty years later or be remembered as "that guy who tried to do that dunk without looking and hit the side of the backboard and almost broke his neck." One way or the other, we would have been talking about it so I'm glad I made the dunk so we could talk about in a positive way and be something iconic, and not be a joke!
HQ: Wow. It just floored me that you never tried that dunk until that night.
DB: I had no clue. I was making up that dunk when I was running from half court to about the free-throw line. I was making it up as I went along. I had no clue I was going to do that dunk. I just wanted to do a signature dunk that someone would remember me by. People remember dunks from all the other players in the past: Michael Jordan taking off from the free throw line, Dominique Wilkins with his windmill power dunk and me with the no-look.
HQ: I have a whole new respect for you now ha ha. Now getting into your basketball career, how was it going from college to the Boston Celtics?
DB: It was easy! That was the best part. I was young and that was the first time I'd ever left Jacksonville for an extended period of time, first time I'd seen snow, having the opportunity to play for the most storied franchise in basketball history. Also playing with Hall of Famers, being around Hall of Famers on a daily basis like Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy, Casey Jones, these guys were at practice every day. It was good for a young player because you respected the game a little more. You didn't feel you were entitled to be there because these guys were champions. The team had won three championships at that time (in the 80s). They were some of the best players (in the league) and they were mature. It put it in perspective that I had no excuses. I had to work hard, be the first one to practice and the last one to leave. It was a good experience as a young player to realize that so early in my career.
I feel that experience has helped keep me in the league so long just because I got to see those guys and their work ethic and the way they presented themselves in the public, they way they treated the fans. You appreciated just being there. I couldn't have asked for a better situation for me.
HQ: Was there any kind of shock when you got there?
DB: Well, it was cold! And the other shock was how much the fans knew about basketball. Culturally, it was the big city. But to me, it was the fans being so knowledgable about the game and really living and dying with what we did every game. That's how serious it was down there! I mean you can't duplicate that kind love and passion for the game.
HQ: Since you were in Boston for so long, was the trade to Toronto a shock to you?
DB: It's always a shock when you're traded, but with all the stuff that was going on in Boston at the time with Rick Pitino there, I guess it made sense as he was trying to transition from the "older Celtics guys". I was really the last link to all the great years, playing with Larry, Kevin and Chief. I was the last old soldier and you get the feeling that you're not going to be around just because he was going in a different direction with the basketball team. He wanted to move away from the Celtics' past and he wanted to build his own team from scratch. I wasn't shocked, but I wasn't surprised.
HQ: How did you feel when you found out you were traded to Toronto?
DB: When I found out I was being traded to Toronto I was excited. Again, you're disappointed because you always think that you'll be with the same team forever but once I was traded, I was really excited. I saw the city, I had played there before, I knew the fans were excited about basketball. I saw it as a new challenge and opportunity to get this team to the playoffs. I came right in when I got traded and became captain just because of my background and what I'd done in Boston. It was an honor that they felt that from day one I was a leader.
HQ: Now when you came over, you were already a veteran player with experiences in the league. Were there any rookies that you gravitated towards to mentor?
DB: The main guy was Tracy McGrady because he was a Florida guy. He was a guy I wanted to get under my wing real quick and mentor him. Now the other guy who wasn't there long enough was Chauncey Billups who came over with me in the trade. Now you're talking about two of the top young guys in the game under your wing! It was more Tracy because he was just outta high school, he needed more guidance. People were being really hard on high school guys coming up at that time. I just had to let him know that it's a process, you got to put in a lot of work, you go to spend a lot of time in the summer getting better and we did that together. I was his big brother for about two years and we did everything together. It wasn't an accident when you saw his game evolve. He was eighteen years old, I was twenty eight. My experience playing in the playoffs, coming from that storied environment, I wanted to give him some of that.
HQ: Now as a Raptor what was your favorite memory on the court?
DB: I have a lot of them really but I think opening up the new building was my favorite. It really showed the city that we're really playing basketball. Once we opened up the Air Canada Center I think it was the best memory because all of a sudden you feel like a real franchise. Before that you're practicing at a local college and you're playing in the the Skydome. NBA teams don't do that! NBA teams have their own arena. Once that happened and the ownership group did that, you now felt you were a part of the future. You're there when all the good stuff for Toronto was about to happen. And it did. We got to the Play Offs for the first time (that season). We beat some good teams. People were getting excited about the team. I think with the new building opened, you felt you were in at the new beginning of a promising franchise.
HQ: Great. Then what was your favorite off court memory as a Raptor?
DB: I just think the city, just being in the city. I tell people that if you take away a lot of the crime and the trash in New York, you have Toronto. It's a beautiful city and it's got everything. It was just so relaxing. As a basketball player, you could fit in anywhere there. I could go to different restaurants, going down Bloor St shopping, on Yonge St just hangin' around when the weather's nice or cold. This is a major metropolitan city, the New York of Canada. It was great! You never heard of guys getting in trouble in Toronto because it wasn't that serious (of an environment). People were just trying to have a good time. I loved that off the court because I always felt I could go anywhere and there was always support for you.
HQ: There has always been a stigma in the NBA about coming to Toronto. Was there that same feeling when you were traded?
DB: It was that in the beginning more because it was an expansion team. No one wants to play on a bad team. And I like I said there were no basketball facilities so players didn't feel that they were playing on an NBA team. Players also talked about the taxes but that was overblown a little. But when you start putting talented people together and start winning games the whole demeanor changes. When guys like myself, Antonio Davis, Charles Oakley, Kevin Willis, guys like that start coming to Toronto and start saying "You're missing something up here" then the mood changed. It only happens when you have talented players and you're winning games and I think that's what we did. We changed the whole mindset of what Toronto basketball was.
HQ: Who was your favorite Raptor teammate?
DB: I think my favorite Raptor teammate was Charles Oakley because he was so down for the team. He was veteran who played on great teams. He played in New York so he understood the big city mentality. I think he was a guy that was also very professional off the court. I think he brought a lot of attention to Toronto. With him saying that this place is a great place to be, a great place to play, he brought a lot of credibility to the city.
I also really enjoyed playing with Doug Christie. Obviously, people have different stories about Doug, but as a basketball player and teammate, he worked hard, he did whatever he had to do for the franchise. He was one of the best on-the-ball defenders I've ever seen. He also really cared about the city of Toronto and establishing it as a really good franchise.
HQ: Had you always thought about going into the front office or coaching after your retired from playing?
DB: Everybody said that when I was playing "You'll probably end up as a coach sometime". Being a point guard, you're a coach on the floor. Front office guys are very cerebral, and that's me too. Once I retired, people knew that was what I was going to do, either in the front offices or in an environment where I was helping to make players better. I kinda got involved with all of that stuff right after I got done so it was a smooth transition.
I didn't retire because I couldn't play anymore. I retired because the grind of the season kinda wears you down, your body. And mentally if you don't have the passion to do it every day, you're cheating the game. I never wanted to cheat the game. I could never cheat the game that way and be the player that plays for a pay check. I left for that reason not because I wasn't good enough to make a team. I left a contract on the table but that was the decision that I wanted to do.
HQ: Now when you retired, did you want to get into coaching right away?
DB: No, I didn't. It would have been the same grind (of a season), only in a different side of the basketball. It was never about trying to get right into coaching. It was more about learning the other side of the game. I wanted to learn the business of basketball. I understood the playing part, I wanted to learn what we as players take for granted. I wanted to get more involved in understanding that.
HQ: So when you retired, were you looking for that front office position so you could begin the learning process?
DB: As soon as I retired I got offered it. I was with the Magic when I retired so they said they still wanted me around. They felt I had enough knowledge to help with players and the organization. So I retired on a Monday and Friday I got the job.
HQ: From that point on, you've been with several organizations. How was the transition from playing to front office as you got more responsibility over time in your vasious positions?
DB: It was work! You find out how hard people work behind the scenes. Like I said, we take for granted as players that we come to the games and people show up. We don't know about marketing dollars, people in the community selling tickets, corporate sponsorships. You see that and you appreciate a little more about what people do in the front office. It was a lot of work, being on the phone, going to various events, speaking to different groups. Being more hands-on with the fans being in these different positions, you have to step out of your comfort zone. You understood that there was a lot of time and effort given for the things you took for granted.
HQ: You also did a stint in broadcasting since you've ended you playing days. Do you still work in that field?
DB: No not really. ESPN will call me to do some guest work occasionally. I worked on Full Court Press for two and half years after I won Dream Job and it was fun. It was another avenue that I ventured into. Like I've said, I touched on every part of what you can do in basketball; player, coach, executive, radio and TV, general manager. I kinda got a look at every angle of what professional sport is like on the basketball side. After I did ESPN, I went to Sirius Satellite Radio and did a daily radio show for an entire season and that was fun. Radio is easier than TV because you can do radio anywhere. TV is a little more demanding. You may be there for four hours to do a fifteen or twenty second hit and you're done for the day. But you're standing around there because you gotta make sure you got your facts, do your research, watch all the games so it's a little more time-consuming doing TV. But obviously the face value you can't beat being on ESPN having your face plastered all over the country. In radio you don't really get that same look.
In the summer time, I did some shows like City Slam things that really didn't have to do with NBA but was just basketball related that was off-the-cuff stuff that was fun. I've done it all and it was a good experience because you get a chance to see and present yourself to different people in different ways where they say "Wow, he's not only a good basketball player but his also talented too."
HQ: Now can you give us an idea of Edge Basketball. Do you still work with the program?
DB: I'm still working with it. I'm still doing high end, elite training for elementary, middle school, high school players. Obviously a lot of the top pro players in the area train with me like Grant Hill, DeShawn Stevenson, guys like that. But our core is the middle school, high school kids. Once I had the time to put in to making people better because I felt that so many people that gave me the information to me when I was younger, put the time into me, that was my hands on giving back. Not just doing a basketball camp once a summer, it's doing it on daily basis year round to me brings more value to the kids because they know that they always have a place to get better.
Playing games don't make you better, it's what you do before and after the games that make you the difference. That's what I heard and saw when I got with the Celtics as a rookie. Larry Bird didn't get better during the games. He was working three hours before practice and didn't leave until three hours after (practice). You're talking about one of the best players to ever play the game who was always the first there, even late in his career. I realized that at an early age in my professional life, but I understood that before I even got to the NBA because that's how I became better. I wasn't a highly recruited guy, I wasn't a big time All-American coming out of college or in high school. I just worked hard and made sure that I was a very skilled player when opportunity came. And that's what we try to relay to the kids. We never tell a kid that walks in the door that this will get you a college scholarship or get you to the NBA or WNBA. What it will do is make you a better player than you were before and give yourself an opportunity to reach what you want to become, depending on what you put into it.
HQ: Have you noticed any players that have blossomed into elite level players who have been with the program?
DB: Yeah, we have Ashley Jones who was Miss Basketball in Florida who's now a freshman at Mississippi State. A kid that goes to Ole Miss named Chris Warren, a great young player that has put his time in. My daughter, she's rated as one of the top ninth graders in Florida. For selfish reasons, the facility was built for her so she can get better really. But again the success is not these big time kids, the success is the kid that didn't make the team in ninth grade but made it in tenth grade, the kid that went from sixth man to a starter. The success stories are the kids that were at one place the year before and after training and putting in time and effort they achieved that goal that they thought they couldn't get to.
HQ: Congratulations on being the first coach and GM of the Springfield Armor. As an exec and coach, how much have you done with the new franchise so far?
DB: We've got a lot of stuff on the business side to do. We're trying to get staff together, ticket sales, corporate sales, getting into the community, find a practice facility, find trainers, everything. We're really just trying getting into the basketball side now with trying to get players, put together the tryouts, get prepared for the draft in November. There's about 70 days before our first game and we're an expansion franchise so we're starting from scratch.
HQ: How has the process been for you so far?
DB: It's been good! I've sat in the front office before. I've coached in the WNBA and I've also ran the basketball side of that. It's nothing new, just a different environment. It's still exciting ‘cause your starting from the ground up and that's the good part.
I run the whole basketball side, the general manager handles the business side. Anything to do with the team, the players, trades and acquiring players is my responsibility. Being in that situation before when I was in the front office of the Magic doing different things from director of player development to being an assistant to the general manager and on the WNBA side being a head coach and general manager you kinda know both sides. It makes it easier for me because I understand all the different entities when you're trying to start a team.
HQ: My final question for you is what's next for Dee Brown?
DB: I'm just here (in Springfield). My job is to make Springfield the best D-League team in the world, win a championship, and give all these young guys a platform to get to where I've been. It's all about these young guys who are trying to get to where I've been before. I can give them some insight, some knowledge, put them in position on the court to be better players so they can get there and stay there. Where ever this leads me after that I'll see but this is my focus right now.
HQ: Thanks for your time Dee and best of luck both in Springfield and down the road wherever your basketball journey takes you.