Brown more than just a dunker
DALLAS -- As Shannon Brown's popularity began to rise higher and higher than his prodigious vertical leap over the past couple of months after an online campaign -- LetShannonDunk.com -- brought this little-known guard's leaping ability to the masses, Brown was quick to remind all of the new moths to his flame that he is so much more than just a dunker.
After Saturday's lackluster performance by Brown in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest -- a letdown on the same level as the finale of "Seinfeld" -- all I can say is it's a good thing he is.
Brown didn't receive the scores of 50 that Lakers fans thought his stupendous slams were bound to rack up. He didn't even receive one 10.
His first attempt was a microcosm of his participation in the event. He ushered the fans who were sitting at the half-court line to move back so he had more room with which to work. We sat up in our seats. He jogged up to the foul line and did a little hop to let the crowd in on his intended takeoff position.
We giggled in delight.
He made his way all the way back down to the far corner of the court and dribbled the ball idly to allow every eyeball in the stands at American Airlines Center ample time to fix upon his 6-foot-1 frame. We stared at him like school children stare at the clock during the last class of the day before a holiday weekend.
He bounded down the court and leaped into the air, pirouetting his body like a figure skater performing a triple salchow. We held our breaths ... he missed. We were left wondering what happened.
Brown hurriedly regrouped and then took off from the foul line area again, switching from his right hand to his left on a dunk to score a 38 on his first slam. He followed it up with an equally uninspiring 40 on his second dunk, a Kobe Bryant-assisted alley-oop Brown intended to turn into a double-pump dunk but said he overjumped on, making it impossible to pull off.
Nate Robinson won the event, becoming the first three-time winner, but there are bigger things in store for Brown than striving to become a Tri Slama Jama.
He's the seventh man on the defending NBA champion Lakers. He is relied upon for being a game-changing defender off the bench. He still has the rim-rattling dunks to bring the Staples Center crowd to its feet, but he has developed a jump shot that has brought opponents to their knees.
Dunking is always going to be a part of him and that's OK. Even though his two dunks in the contest were less inspiring than just about every in-game dunk he has had this season, he insisted that his dunks looked better on replay than the judges gave him credit for.
He said Saturday he used to do calf raises in the shower after practice, before he went to sleep, first thing when he woke up and then even more when he took his morning wake-up shower. He worked to become the dunker he is, but he's working toward becoming something even better now.
"I didn't win it, hopefully there will be a next time, but my main goal is to one day play in this All-Star Game that's happening Sunday," Brown said afterward.
The anticipation was ample Saturday and the hype machine was in full force. Brown spent part of the afternoon as the featured guest at a sneaker store in a North Dallas mall. Hordes of kids wearing "Throw It Down, Shannon Brown" T-shirts patiently waited through former Finals MVP Paul Pierce's presentation for the arrival of the most anticipated guest, while hundreds of others lined up outside the store's windows to get a glimpse of the kid with the golden calves.
It was his "Wow, I've really made it, they're all here for me" moment. His dunking might have brought him here, but it won't keep him here.
"I take pride in everything that I do on the basketball court," Brown said, kicking his custom Nike shoes against the wall after the contest. "I try to be the best at everything, whether it's passing the ball, shooting the ball, rebounding, defense; I try to be an all-around good player. That's what you have to do in order to be the best."
Bryant is already the best, but he used to be like Brown. It has been 13 years since Bryant won the contest in Cleveland with his through-the-legs East Bay Funk Dunk as a rookie. Brown has supplanted Bryant as the Lakers' most exciting player by doing the things that got Kobe noticed when he was young, but Brown is doing a whole lot more.
"When [teams] play against us, you have to [account for him]," Bryant said. "With him coming off the bench and putting up points the way he's putting up and defending the way he's defending, you have to pay attention to him."
Bryant certainly did. So much so that it was Bryant, the 12-time All-Star, scoring champion and league MVP, who found himself seeking out Brown and not the other way around.
"Since he came here I instantly gravitated to him just because I recognize how much talent he has, how much potential he has," Bryant said. "He's also a good person, he's a good kid. I honestly gravitated towards him."
Brown said his Saturday night -- the night that solidified his rise from waiver-wire fodder to slam-dunk wonder kid -- was his solemn tribute to Julius Erving and Michael Jordan, an ode to the days when dunks were judged on airtime and defying gravity, not prop placement and costume creativity.
Brown was a high school sophomore at Hardaway's Chicago-area summer basketball camp when he was impressing the other campers with easy fast-break dunks. Harper, a former slam-dunk participant in 1987, challenged him: Jump over my wife and do it.
Brown did and he planned to do something similar again Saturday, this time over 7-foot Lakers teammate D.J. Mbenga.
Had he decided to use the dunk earlier and pulled it off instead of leaving Mbenga twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines in his warm-ups, he probably would have won the contest.
"I definitely don't want to be remembered as just a dunker, but [rather] as a great basketball player," Brown said.
He did himself a favor by having a dunk contest that wasn't very memorable. Go ahead, Shannon, nothing's stopping you from letting you be great.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.