Posted Feb 2 2010 1:15PM
Shannon Brown, backup guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, has the respect and admiration of both a reigning king and The Leader of the Free World.
Scene: The Cleveland Cavaliers' locker room a couple of weeks ago. LeBron James, The King to whom we referred, was assessing the field in this year's Slam Dunk Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend, but had blanked on one of the contestants.
"Do I have odds on who's going to win? I dunno. Who's the fourth participant again?'' James asked. Told that it was Brown, the Cavaliers' star perked up. "Wow. I like Shannon. I like Shannon. He's good. We'll see.''
Scene: The White House a few days later. During a private ceremony to commemorate the Lakers' NBA championship last June, the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. shook Brown's hand and wished him luck in the dunk contest Feb. 13. Then, at a public version not long after that was covered by global media, President Obama did it again.
Brown's reaction? Startled by the former, humbled by the latter.
"When he did that, I didn't know what to do, man,'' Brown told reporters. "I was like, 'This dunk contest needs to hurry up.' I got kind of juiced. I need to be out there now.''
Perhaps in honor of the nation's First Hoops Fan, Brown put on a little dunk showcase of his own the next night against the Wizards, right there in Washington. All in the second quarter of L.A.'s 115-103 victory, he threw down an alley-oop feed from Lamar Odom, finished a fast-break with a one-handed jam, then used two hands for a slam-back of Andrew Bynum's missed free throw.
Coincidentally, when the Lakers packed for their extended eight-game road trip and coach Phil Jackson dispensed this year's stack of books for to his players, the title he gifted to Brown was a copy of Obama's, Dreams From My Father.
Kismet? Hard to say. But with the President throwing his support toward Brown, it makes you wonder if Nate Robinson, Gerald Wallace, DeMar DeRozan and Eric Gordon -- the others vying for the dunk title -- might respond by leaning a little to the right on their initial attempts.
"He just added a little bit of pressure,'' Brown said. "That's well-worth-it pressure. I'd rather have pressure from the president than anybody else.''
Brown seems to be the people's choice, not unlike Obama was about 15 months ago. At least among people savvy in dunk history and skills. Orlando's Dwight Howard, a past champion, recently said of the Lakers guard: "He's a great, unbelievable dunker. He's awesome above the rim. He's in the category of Vince Carter, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins.''
TNT analyst Kenny Smith pounced on Brown as his favorite to win the 2010 title. "Nate Robinson cannot do things that Shannon Brown can do,'' Smith said during a telecast. "Shannon Brown will win the dunk contest, he's the best athlete in the field.''
James' respect for Brown stems from their slam showdown in a dunk contest when both were seniors in high school. "A lot of people don't realize Shannon almost beat LeBron in a McDonald's contest,'' said DeRozan, who will compete with Gordon in a new dunk-in round on Friday of All-Star Weekend. "I know he's going to come with something.''
Explained Brown: "What it was, LeBron won it fair and square. I missed a dunk and he made all his dunks, so he accumulated more points than I did. I think everybody liked the '360' that I did though.''
Then there is Kobe Bryant, another former champ and longtime electrifying dunker. When asked what advice he had for his younger teammate heading toward the event, Bryant said: "Do it old school. Don't bring out props and stuff like that. Go out there and showcase your God-given athleticism. I mean, his chest is over the rim. That's good enough for '50' [a perfect score].''
Brown, despite putting up a Web site to tout his candidacy as a dunk contestant (DeRozan did the same in response), has been keeping his ideas to himself. All he would tell me after a recent Lakers game was: "I feel like every dunk pretty much has been done in this league. There's nothing new that anybody can do but be creative with things. I think that's going to be what gets it done -- creativity of the individual.''
The Lakers, naturally, are more interested in the team and what Brown does for them off the bench. Through Monday, he was averaging 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 18.7 minutes, with an efficiency rating of 7.27. He reached double figures in points seven times in January, including a career-best 22 against the Magic, and 16 times this season. There's been some inconsistency but, on most nights, Browns enters the Lakers' games like a hypodermic of energy and activity.
It's a nice role, especially for a guy who bounced through seven teams in less than three years. Drafted by Cleveland with the 25th overall pick in 2006, Brown logged minutes with Albuquerque, Rio Grande Valley and Iowa in the NBA Development League. He was lumped into the massive, 11-player, Cleveland-Chicago-Seattle trade in February 2008, landing with the Bulls. The following summer, Charlotte signed Brown as a free agent, but traded him to the Lakers last February with Adam Morrison for Vladimir Radmanovic.
Brown got himself a championship ring four months later; the native of Maywood, Ill., and three-year player at Michigan State averaged 4.9 points in the Lakers' title run. Now he's trying to earn a second.
"He's a young man who's very diligent about his work,'' Jackson said. "He puts in the effort and it's paying off for him. I think it's maturity. I think it's opportunity and responsibility.''
Said Brown: "People see what I do out on the court. I just try to have fun. Some people consider me a dunker, but I'm a guy, I try to bring my all-around game out. But when it's time to dunk, I don't hold back.''
That was evident when Brown got the ball in the open court at Cleveland two weeks ago. As the crowd braced for a glimpse of his dunk abilities, Cavaliers' forward Jawad Williams cut him off, thwarted the attempt and sent the Laker guard to the foul line.
Admitting that he was about to flush down something special, Brown smiled. "That was a good foul,'' he said. "He was very smart.''
So, it seems, is your money if it's on Brown on All-Star Saturday.
Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.
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