Where was the pizzaz in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest before Dee Brown showed his face?
Before antics and props, such as Superman capes, dunks over cars and hurdling motorcycles dominated the Slam Dunk Contest, there was a little, Gumby-cut rookie who stole the 1991 show by pumping up his shoes and executing a dunk without looking. On that special night, Brown altered the course of Reebok and caught the attention of many around the world, including Michael Jordan. Although Dee wasn’t an actual All-Star, his moment at the ’91 Dunk Contest was as big as any other All-Star moment during that decade.
As the 1990s installment of our NBA?All-Star Diaries series, Dee Brown relives the moments before, during and after the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. He also details an untold encounter he had with Michael Jordan following the previously mentioned contest.
Nice Kicks: A lot of people are not aware that you were a rookie when you won the Slam Dunk Contest. So, talk to me about life before your moment of fame.
Dee Brown. Well, I had a Reebok contract before I played my first game, but it wasn’t a major type of deal. It was just a standard contract. With me coming to Boston as a rookie and Reebok being in that area, it just made sense. As for basketball, I was a big dunker in college; I actually won the dunk contest in college. As my rookie season with the Celtics went on, I was getting a lot of dunks, but nobody paid attention. At the time, the Celtics weren’t known for having a bunch of dunkers because we were, well, the Celtics. We just got the job done – similar to how the Spurs play now. Larry Bird was still on the team in addition to McHale and Parish. As for the young guys, it was just me, the late Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw, but I was the one getting a lot of dunks and alley-oops in the games. So, a lot of people were like, ‘Wait a minute, who is this guy dunking for the Celtics?’
Nice Kicks: Was it just word of mouth that got you to the Slam Dunk Contest that year?
Dee Brown: Actually, one of our assistant coaches at the time called the league offices and mentioned to them that we have a guy up here in Boston that would be really good for the dunk contest. Initially, I was turned down, but somebody dropped out and I became the last guy chosen. So, it was by default that I got into the contest, which brings me to a funny story about the contest.
I was sitting in the stands before the contest started with all of the contestants, and I was right next to Shawn Kemp. At that time, we both had the same haircut – you know, the Gumby-like flattop. So, Shawn is signing autographs, Rex Chapman is signing autographs and so are all of the other contestants except me. But one kid comes up to Shawn while pointing at me and says, ‘Hey Shawn, is that your little brother?’
I guess it was because we had the same haircut, but I kinda got upset about that. From that point on, I was like, ‘I’m winning this contest.’ I couldn’t believe that little kid called me Shawn Kemp’s little brother.
Nice Kicks: So, was that little kid your source of motivation to come up with your dunks, including the no-look one?
Dee Brown: Well, before the contest, I planned all of the dunks that I wanted to do except the no-look one, but at that point, it made me think of some other things to do so I can have a legit chance of winning and that’s how the pumping of my shoes came about. It was just me sitting there before the contest, motivated by that kid. I just wanted to somehow get the contest to swing my way from the beginning of it. So yeah, it all stemmed from a comment about Shawn Kemp whom I ironically ended up beating in the Dunk Contest finals that year.
Nice Kicks: Oh, so the pumping of your shoes wasn’t premeditated at all?
Dee Brown: Nope. That was the first time I ever pumped my shoes and the first time I ever did the no-look dunk. I never practiced it before then. It was all organic. I made that up on the fly. As for the pumping of the shoes, I just wanted to get the crowd into it. To be honest, I made that no-look dunk up somewhere in between sitting on the box waiting to dunk next and the rim. I’d like to thank that fan for the extra motivation [Laughs].