October 5, 1997
Dee Brown is ready.
"I've been waiting my whole career for a coach like this," he says. "High school, college, pro. I think I am ideal for his system. I'm definitely a player who is molded for his system."
The past is past. Some of it was nice and some of it wasn't, but Dee Brown has no intention of revisiting any of it. He is giving himself over to Rick Pitino and the Rick Pitino way of doing things.
Creeping up on age 29, he is a Born-Again Ballplayer.
He is also Pitino's first poster boy.
"What's most important," says the man who has been anointed to bring the Celtics back from the ranks of the living dead, "is that everybody sees in the flesh Dee's commitment already. In every NBA camp today, you will hear the same rhetoric. But here, physically, everyone can take a look at this guy and he can say, 'I've changed.' I expect him to have a big year, and he expects that as well."
Dee Brown was drafted with a reputation for being the fastest man east of the Pecos, and as a bonus he also turned out to be the jumpingest. That was before a serious knee injury and too many trips to the weight room turned him from a greyhound of a point guard into some sort of macho off-guard.
Brown weighs 185. Last year he weighed 210.
"I didn't run or jump the way I used to," Brown confesses. "And I think carrying all that weight was too much for my back and joints."
He did it because he decided he needed to be stronger if he was going to battle the reigning big guards in the NBA. Oh, well, you know what they say about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.
Ask Brown about those early days and he'll tell you it sounds like it was an interesting life.
"It's all some distant memory," he says. "Like it happened to somebody else."
The Wellesley arrest incident . . . winning the slam dunk contest . . . getting married and divorced . . . playing superb basketball in the 1991 playoffs . . . tearing up his knee. How's that for a first 13 months as a professional?
It's important to understand where Dee Brown was professionally in October 1991. He was a celebrity by virtue of winning the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and he was a sensational young prospect by virtue of solid play on the floor. He was off to a great exhibition season start in the fall of '91. Larry Bird was telling people that Brown was going to be a great player, specifically a great point guard. And then he messed up his knee during a practice at Hellenic College.
"That injury set me back a long way," he acknowledges. "It was much more damaging emotionally than physically, because I had a full recovery. I felt I was right there, that I was on the verge of everything. All-Star Game, this and that. It took a lot out of me."
He won't say it, but he almost undoubtedly came back too soon. The Celtics were still a viable team in those days. He wanted to be involved. There was competition with Brian Shaw, and he wanted to fight for a job. He just wasn't ready, and he was easily frustrated.
"I felt cheated," he says. "Me and Reggie Lewis, we were going to be the next great NBA backcourt. I felt cheated out of that position. I felt I had done everything I was supposed to do to get back, but it just wasn't happening. Maybe it was a wake-up call, but it took me a couple of years to wake up."
Under Chris Ford, he was getting his time and he did have his moments. But the M.L. Carr tenure was a particular disaster for Brown, who saw his time cut back to 24 minutes a game. He was the captain, and he took a beating two years ago when he said he wanted out of town. Last year was a washout. He hurt his back, played a mere 21 games, and might as well have been a PR assistant or a sales rep, for all anyone cared.
There isn't any doubt that if either Carr or some Mr. X were coaching the Celtics, Brown would now be elsewhere. But Pitino's style calls for athletes who can get up and down the floor, who can apply defensive pressure, and who can spot up and shoot the 3-pointer. That happens to be the text of the Dee Brown personal ad. On paper, this marriage could have Steve & Eydie kind of legs.
The home side of Brown's life is already in sync. He has married again, has fathered two little girls, and in wife Tammy has the kind of support system a professional athlete often needs.
"Without her, I don't think I would have gotten myself in shape like this," Brown maintains. "She pushed me out the door to work out many a day this summer. She would say, 'Do you really want to eat this?' And she is the one who kept me from going completely crazy during the past two years."
As for the professional side, he is nothing short of evangelistic.
"I feel great physically and mentally," he reports. "My career started over again in June. This is a new era for Dee Brown."
History? What history?
"I read Rick Pitino's book," Brown says. "In it he talks about the 'precious present.' None of us are going to be judged on what we did in the past, good or bad. All that matters is what we can do for him now."
Once upon a time, this guy was going to be the next great player. There is still enough time to get there.