Shannon Brown elevates his game
The acrobatic dunker's prowess on shooting and defense lifts Lakers in opener
LOS ANGELES -- Shannon Brown could have been in a Toronto hotel room on Tuesday night.
Instead, Brown was a key link in the Lakers'’ full-circle ring ceremony -- accepting a warm introduction from playing-time competitor Sasha Vujacic and then delivering an intro for Derek Fisher worthy of what "El Presidente" means to the team -- and later dominating the fourth quarter to push Los Angeles over the top in a 112-110 season-opening win over the Houston Rockets.
Brown had 16 points and four steals for the game, with 14 of the points and three of the steals coming in the final quarter, when the Lakers erased a five-point deficit and Brown played all 12 minutes.
And instead of doing it with the Let Shannon Dunk, high-flying act to which we've become accustomed, he dialed up Downtown Shannon Brown, going 4-for-4 on 3-pointers in the fourth.
The juxtaposition of the two skills was impressive. The fury and quickness of the steals -- one of them coming on the backside against an unsuspecting Yao Ming, kind of like that famous theft Michael Jordan made on Karl Malone before burying that even more famous shot in Utah -- were offset by the discipline and control of his net-snapping long balls.
When Brown finished his flurry with 5:30 left in the fourth, the dejected Rockets called timeout and an ecstatic Kobe Bryant ran out to midcourt to lock Brown in a hug and say something in his ear.
"He told me just, 'Way to shoot it,'" Brown said. "We had some other words come across, some profanities."
Much has been made of Bryant being key to bringing Fisher back and recruiting Matt Barnes from Orlando, but he was also making calls to Brown to let him know how important he was to the Lakers when the Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers were trying to pry him away.
"We talked a lot," Bryant said. "He's like a brother to me, so we talked often. It was huge [to re-sign him]."
Brown could have left for more money and playing time, like Jordan Farmar did when he left the Lakers to join a New Jersey Nets team that went 12-70 last season. He could have moved on to a team closer to his hometown, like Josh Powell did when he signed with the Atlanta Hawks, and like Powell, he could have been the one texting me, "I'll definitely miss it," when I told him about the crowd's roar of appreciation when his name was announced in absentia.
But the lure of the Lakers' locker room, where the carpet was probably damp well into July from Game 7 champagne, was too much for Brown to resist.
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"Championships," he said about what brought him back. "This ring ceremony is so special. It's history. It's something that nobody ever, ever, ever can ever take away. It's going to hang in the rafters for as long as basketball is around. I love being a Laker."
For a guy smooth enough to win over his fianc&233;e, R&B singer Monica, on the busy set of a music video, he sounded pretty nervous about making sure he said the right thing when it was his responsibility to turn the spotlight on Fisher during the pregame ceremony.
"They only gave us 30 seconds, but I had a lot more to say about him," Brown said. "I was actually driving [to Staples Center] trying to get it all collected in my head. I was walking around the house saying it."
When Vujacic spoke about Brown, the first thing he mentioned was Brown being a "great teammate" and then he praised his overall athleticism, rather than focusing on his dunking ability. It proved that Vujacic, who has struggled against being labeled as solely an outside shooter, really knows Brown and his drive to become known as an all-around player.
"I appreciate any positive word that anybody says about me. Sasha's a great guy," Brown said. "I really don't want nobody mentioning my dunks no more."
Brown, Fisher and head coach Phil Jackson were in similar shoes a few months ago, the soundtrack to their lives sounding a lot like The Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?"
Ultimately it wasn't the tangible representation of winning that brought them back, not the gold and diamonds in the rings or the purple and gold cloth of the banner, but that irresistible feeling of accomplishing it together.
"When the banner's being unveiled and there's excitement in the crowd, I think Lamar [Odom] made a comment about it feeling like home," Fisher said.
Said Brown, "People are going to always remember winners. People are going to always remember the championships. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to build legacies and make history."Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.