The assistant coach reflects on playing alongside Celtics Hall of Famers, dishes on his coaching philosophy and shares his excitement for Sacramento’s foundation.
On the heels of a 12-year NBA playing career – during which he averaged 11.1 points, 3.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game with Boston, Toronto and Orlando – Kings Assistant Coach/Player Development Dee Brown chose to impart his wisdom on young players.
Prior to joining Sacramento, the Jacksonville University product coached in the WNBA, served as head coach and director of basketball operations for the Springfield Armor of the NBA Development League, worked as the director of player development for the Orlando Magic and spent two seasons on the NBA sidelines as an assistant coach for the Detroit Pistons.
In a recent Q&A with Kings.com, Brown – who earned All-Rookie First Team honors after being selected 19th overall in the 1990 NBA Draft – describes his instrumental experience with the Celtics, memorable ‘no-look’ throwdown in the 1991 Slam Dunk Contest, passion for teaching and much more.
How did your path to the NBA begin?
“I was one of those guys who wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. I went to a small Division I school and wasn’t really a guy on everybody’s radar coming out of college, but every time I stepped on the court in front of people who made decisions, I made sure I was prepared, played hard and pretty much tried to bust up the competition. I worked myself into being a first-round pick and was always a grinder.
“The best thing that happened to me was I was drafted by a veteran team and a storied franchise with the Boston Celtics – to be around guys like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, who showed me how to respect the game. (They taught me,) Don’t play because you want to get paid, play because you love the game. I always carried myself that way every time I stepped on the court.”
How would you describe your experience playing alongside Hall of Famers in Boston?
“It was humbling because you have to understand you’re playing with some of the greatest players who ever played the game – out of, I think, the top 50 players of all-time, the Celtics had 12 of those players. Every practice my first two years, on the sideline was Red Auerbach, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Jo Jo White – you have some of the best players who ever played the game watching you play every day. Out of respect, you want to go out there and play your hardest and not make excuses because those guys are proven winners and champions.
“And then you’re playing with four Hall of Famers, so every day was like Christmas for a basketball player because you get a chance to pick the minds (of) and be on the court with some of the best players to play in our era. It made me a better player and it made me a better person off the court because you respected what they did and you did whatever you had to do to be a part of that Celtics legacy.”
What accomplishment stands out most from your time in Boston?
“The best thing in my career was to be named captain. You look at the Celtics captains over the last 50 years – from (Bill) Russell to Cousy to Bird to guys like Reggie Lewis – (when) you put yourself in that category, it makes you feel you’ve done the work and you earned respect of the greatest players who ever played the game.”
Take me back to the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest. How did the idea for the Pump sneakers and ‘no-look’ dunk originate?
“Somebody pulled out (of the Dunk Contest) and one of our assistant coaches called (the NBA) and said, ‘You might want to look at this guy – he won the college dunk contest the year before, so you might want to put him in.’ They were like, ‘Well, he’s a Celtic – Celtics don’t dunk!’ So I was the last guy to get put in, and nobody really knew who I was. I knew I could win – nobody gave me a chance, (but) I had a lot of dunks that nobody had seen before.
“The last ‘no-look’ dunk, people think I practiced it. I never did that dunk before, so it wasn’t planned – I made it up on the spot. The Pumps and the Reeboks were something to get the crowd into it. You see how the type of thing I did has kind of progressed – people coming out of phone booths, bringing out choirs, jumping over cars – so people call me the godfather of the marketing side of the Dunk Contest. It makes me feel good that we still talk about it 23 years later.”
Looking back, how would you characterize your playing career as a whole?
“I thought I was a guy who my peers respected – that’s all I really cared about. I can walk around and go to any arena, see players around in different cities and they know who I am, they respect my game and say, ‘I loved your game – I loved either playing with you or playing against you because you’re a competitor.’
“I would never change anything in my career. (During) my 12 years in the NBA, the first eight years with the Celtics are the ones I remember the most, (but I also) played in Toronto with Vince Carter, played for Doc Rivers in Orlando – the experiences were great. We all make mistakes – you have some good years, some bad years – but I think I had a very successful career and when your peers can say good things about you when you retire, it means you did the right things on and off the court.”
When did you first realize you were interested in coaching?
“I think it was not so much coaching (as much as) teaching. I love coaching, but my passion is really teaching. The hardest part about coaching is the teaching part – showing guys how to do things the right way on the court, the fundamentals, philosophies on offense and defense – so I enjoy that part more because it gets you more involved with the players on a day-to-day basis and (provides) more personal interaction on the court when you’re out there sweating with them.”
How did your coaching career begin?
“I first started when I retired in Orlando. I went into the front office and was the director of player development. Right after that, I got into coaching. I was kind of bored sitting in the office, watching a lot of film and doing a lot of scouting, so I wanted to get back on the court and thought I still had a lot to give to players.
“I started coaching in the WNBA first for a few years. Then, I went into the D-League and was a head coach there, just trying to refine my coaching skills. The past couple of years, before coming to Sacramento, I was an assistant coach for Lawrence Frank in Detroit. Now, I’m excited to be here in Sacramento with (Head) Coach (Michael) Malone and the staff.”
How did the opportunity to coach in Sacramento present itself?
“In the summertime, I do a lot of things for Nike – I travel around the world and do a lot of skill development camps for their elite players. I do Kevin Durant’s camp, Deron Williams’ camp, LeBron (James’) camp, and I’m always around NBA coaches and personnel. They see me on the court working.
“The last couple of years, I had a few conversations with (Coach Malone) before games, talking about different players, (and he saw me) work out guys before games. During the offseason, he contacted me and said, ‘I love your passion, I love what you do, (I need) energetic coaches who know the game. I love former players who played the game at a high level but also respect the game and do things the right way.’ Having a new staff, a new ownership group (and) a new G.M., I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come out and work with a lot of the young players and build something nice here in Sacramento.”
What have been your impressions of the team’s coaching staff since you arrived?
“We bring it every day. Coach Malone is one of the most high-energy guys I’ve been around – he’s on the court with the guys. We (did) offseason workouts with our veteran players who (were) in Vegas, and he’s on the court with them, setting screens, making passes, playing defense – you don’t see a lot of head coaches who really get after it that way. It’s good when your head coach sets an example. As an assistant coach, you definitely want to fall in line and be energetic, so the staff (has) a really good rapport with each other. That’s the best thing – you have to like who you’re working with. We respect each other, we hold each other accountable and, the main thing is, we want to make each other better.”
What excites you most about the Kings roster?
“I think we have a good core, with DeMarcus (Cousins) obviously being the guy who’s going to be a real focal point of our basketball team. The main thing is we (had) four veteran guys (in) Vegas – Isaiah (Thomas), Jimmer (Fredette), Jason (Thompson) and Marcus (Thornton) – (being) a part of Summer League practices and (getting) some workouts in. That goes to show their commitment to what we’re trying to do.
“Coach Malone wants to change the culture, our G.M., Pete D’Alessandro, wants to change the culture, our owner, Vivek (Ranadivé, joined the team in Las Vegas). Being a part of what we’re doing, I see a bright future.”
WATCH: Dee Brown Coaching Profile