Shannon Brown made an immediate impression as a Laker.
In his first appearance with the team, Brown got into the game during garbage time and got his teammates on their feet. He didn’t score, he didn’t get any assists, and he turned the ball over twice in less than six minutes.
But he did do this.
The officials incorrectly scored that as a foul instead of a block, but the damage was done. One game into his Lakers tenure, and it was instantly clear that Brown was the best athlete on the team.
The bench reactions from the Lakers gave us an instantly iconic gif, but check out how the players on the Atlanta bench failed to restrain themselves — you know a play is good when the team that’s on the receiving end can’t help but appreciate it.
Back in the 2006 NBA Draft, I was slightly bummed when Shannon Brown went off the board one spot before the Lakers could select him. Los Angeles’ own Jordan Farmar ended up being the pick, and he was an integral part of two championship teams, but Brown was the one that got away.
That made it all the more exciting to get Brown three years later, even though he had somewhat floundered in the first part of his pro career. The fact that the Lakers only had to surrender Vladimir Radmanovic (our beloved space cadet) and also got Adam Morrison in the deal was icing on the cake — pre-veto Mitch Kupchak was quite the dealmaker.
The 2008-09 Lakers were maybe my favorite of all of the Lakers teams I have watched in my lifetime, and just a tremendously talented collection of basketball players. Between Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom, the Lakers had the skill to match up with, or likely best, any other team in the league. That team could put on a clinic in passing, footwork and post moves. Its basketball IQ was through the roof.
What the Lakers didn’t have was someone who could jump out of the gym, and Shannon Brown’s arrival immediately addressed that. There is something viscerally affecting about a powerful dunk or block, and the damage that does to an opposing team’s psyche. It’s harder to do that with a beautiful passing sequence; finesse doesn’t always get the crowd jumping.
Brown’s athleticism was made for highlights. Everything he did got people on their feet. His primary role on the Lakers was to be a defensive stopper for opposing guards, and he did that, but he was also a key source of energy off the bench. He ran the floor hard in transition, and his dunks brought life to Staples Center.
For me, Brown’s crowning moment in Los Angeles was Game 5 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals. The Lakers were tied 2-2 with the Nuggets, but both of L.A.’s wins were nailbiters, while Denver had just blown out the Lakers at home. The Nuggets were up seven points early in the third quarter, which was the biggest lead of the night, and it felt like a critical moment when the game could potentially swing.
Phil Jackson subbed Derek Fisher out earlier than normal, partly because of Fisher’s four fouls, and brought in Brown after he hadn’t played in the first half. The Lakers promptly tied the game with a 7-0 run, punctuated by this beauty from the young guard.
I remember the overwhelming nerves I had watching that game. The Lakers had lost in the Finals the year before, and then lazed through a seven-game win over the Rockets in the previous round. They were being tested, and they needed something to power them through this moment.
Shannon Brown’s dunk over Birdman was the momentum shifter that got the crowd going, and the one that turned my mood. Brown was a jolt of electricity that turned things around for the Lakers. For all of the talent on the team, they didn’t have anyone else who could make a dynamic play like Brown.
Any discussion of Brown would obviously be incomplete without a nod to Let Shannon Dunk. He obviously earned his invitation to compete in the dunk contest, given that he was one of the most breathtaking dunkers in the league. He got up so high and just hung there forever, enabling him to finish however he wanted around the rim.
Of course, the Dunk Contest didn’t exactly go as planned. Despite overwhelming hype and an assist from Bryant on the day of, Brown finished last, and Do Not Let Shannon Dunk was born. It was a humbling moment for all of us, but it was more important that Brown finish this dunk against the Celtics than any in that exhibition.
Brown finished his NBA career in relative obscurity, popping up on four teams for 152 games over four years after leaving the Lakers. Looking back, he never found quite as perfect of a role outside of Los Angeles. He wasn’t a good enough playmaker to be a full-time point guard or a good enough shooter to be a full-time two, but the Lakers had enough ball-handlers and scorers to compensate for his weaknesses and allow him to play to his strengths.
In a way, Brown’s time with the Lakers was a microcosm of the way he played. When it seemed like he was out of the game, there was that fleeting moment of greatness, an exclamation point to reel you back in. Being in Los Angeles brought Shannon Brown back to life the same way one of his poster dunks awoke a sleeping crowd.
For two and a half years, Brown was able to shine with the Lakers as a speed demon, a lob threat, a putback menance, and a highlight machine. For that, he is a Laker worth appreciating.