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The Lakers' shooting guard is doing something right. Brown returns to Chicago to face the Bulls on Friday night, less than two weeks removed from his 25th birthday as a man in full. After bouncing between five NBA teams in his first three-and-a-half seasons in the league, Brown has found a home in Los Angeles. As the team pursues a third straight title, Brown is blossoming into one of the league's bright young talents, averaging career highs in points (11.3), rebounds (2.5), assists (1.3) and steals (1.0) while shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 46.3 percent on 3-pointers (12th-best in the NBA) and 91.2 percent from the line. He has scored 10 points or more off the bench in 14 out of 22 games this season after doing so just 22 times in 75 games as a substitute a season ago. He is ranked fifth among the early Sixth Man of the Year candidates on ESPN.com's NBA Award Watch and his name has also been tossed around in the Most Improved Player conversation. He is the most exciting player on L.A.'s premier sports team, possessing a vertical jump of 44.5 inches, which is more than the vert of legendary highfliers Vince Carter (43 inches) and Dominique Wilkins (42 inches) in their primes.
He is, in Hollywood terms, the new "it" guy, ready for his close-up. But it wasn't always this easy.After a recent Lakers practice, Brown and I sat down for a chat outside his Marina Del Rey home with the Los Angeles grid sprawled out off to the distance in front of us. It was a long way from Des Moines, Iowa.
Iowa was one of three D-League stops for Brown in the early part of his NBA career. He wakes up now to two NBA championship rings on his nightstand ("I don't want to have to go in a safe every time I want to look at them," Brown said), but Brown almost found himself out of the NBA before he really got a chance to get started thanks to a string of D-League demotions. Does he remember the Iowa Energy? "Yeah," Brown said. How about the Albuquerque Thunderbirds? "Mmm-hmm." And the Rio Grande Valley Vipers? "Yes." "Thinking about those days, I wasn't so much thinking negative," Brown said. "I always knew that I could play in this league; it was kind of like, 'Why am I not getting my shot? Why am I not getting my opportunity?' It was a whole bunch of 'Why?' questions."
|After bouncing around from team to team, Brown has fit right in with the Lakers.|
|Brown was a standout at Michigan State.|
"It was getting frustrating but, I don't know, there was still something in me saying like, 'OK, let me go to the gym and get these shots up.'"The Charlotte Bobcats ended up being a fortuitous bounce for Brown's fledging career. He was playing for coach Larry Brown, who Michigan State coach Tom Izzo greatly admired. (The Spartans' coach had made the trip from East Lansing to Detroit often to sit in on Larry's practices when he was coaching the Pistons.) "They had the same type of coaching style," Shannon Brown said about the two coaches. "The same type of mannerisms and things like that. The same philosophy about the game, so I was fitting in pretty well over there. I was kind of almost getting comfortable in Charlotte. I liked Charlotte. It was a good place for me. "And then next thing I know, boom, I end up getting traded." This sudden occurrence was much more of a boon for Brown than a "boom." He was traded to the Lakers on Feb. 7, 2009, but he might have punched his ticket to Hollywood 11 days earlier, on Jan. 27, when he scored 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and two assists in a Charlotte win over the Lakers. He had been averaging just 4.8 points on 45.5 percent shooting to go with less than one rebound and less than one assist when he had that breakout game as Lakers GM Kupchak watched. Maybe it jogged the memory of Brown's pre-draft workout with the Lakers. Cleveland drafted Brown in the first round in 2006, at No. 25. The Lakers had the next pick at No. 26 and selected Jordan Farmar.
“"I had a great workout [with the Lakers] -- well, I thought I had a great workout -- when I was coming out of college," Brown said. "Honestly, I don't think I missed a shot, man. But with this business, everything is not just going to be given to you just because you got talent. People really are looking for connections. They're looking for, 'Why should I pick this kid? Is he a good kid? He's not saying much, but he seems like he's cool.' ... You know what I mean? They're looking for something to give them a good vibe to really pick that person." Kupchak said he remembers Brown was impressive at his workout. However, the GM disputes Brown's claim that he was perfect from the field that day. "There's only one player that hasn't missed a shot -- that's Von Wafer," Kupchak said. "Shannon may have missed [just] one, but he didn't go without missing a shot." Brown has had several games this season in which he hasn't missed a shot from 3-point land. He went 3-for-3 against both Memphis and Golden State and 4-for-4 Wednesday night against the Clippers. He said he is trying to shed the reputation of being only a dynamic dunker.
I think I could be good at any sport I played and pretty much do well in it, but in terms of the actual skills of basketball, I'm still working on those. I didn't have those when I first touched a basketball, when I first wanted to learn how to play the game, and it's taken me a long time to really try to bring all of it together. That's what a lot of people don't know, I don't think.” -- Shannon Brown
He once shot 5-for-6 on 3s in an NCAA tournament game against Kentucky as a sophomore. But that game doesn't get nearly the YouTube attention garnered by Brown's college dunk on Penn State's Ben Luber or his NBA preseason dunk on Warriors center Mikki Moore or even his missed dunk versus Suns guard Jason Richardson (a fellow Spartans alum) in Game 1 of the 2010 Western Conference finals.
When Brown had a disappointing showing in the dunk contest at All-Star Weekend in Dallas last season, the first thing he said to Kobe Bryant afterward was, "Let's go win this championship now."Brown backed up his talk. He started at shooting guard for the injured Bryant in the first game after the All-Star break and set career highs in both points (27) and rebounds (10) in a win against the Golden State Warriors. To Brown, the dunking is a result of his God-given athleticism. He doesn't have to work as hard at it, so he doesn't take as much pride in it. "One thing why I'm so passionate about the game and one thing people may not know also is, you know how some people they have people that can teach them certain things or they just have a natural gift to play basketball -- my natural gift was athleticism," Brown said. "I think I could be good at any sport I played and pretty much do well in it, but in terms of the actual skills of basketball, I'm still working on those. I didn't have those when I first touched a basketball, when I first wanted to learn how to play the game, and it's taken me a long time to really try to bring all of it together. That's what a lot of people don't know, I don't think."
|Brown wants to be thought of as much more than a dunker when it's all said and done.|
“He tries because Tatiana, Petey and Calvin can't try for themselves anymore. He tries because he's the guy who made it out of three D-League assignments to become a two-time NBA champion. He tries because he's the guy who gets to play for the Lakers while his high school teammate, Dee Brown, couldn't make his NBA dream last and is now playing overseas. He tries because one of his high school rivals, Sean Dockery, who went on to play point guard at Duke, never made it to the NBA. He tries because his former Michigan State teammate, Drew Naymick, was on the Lakers' training camp squad earlier this year, scratching and clawing for a roster spot that realistically wasn't there to begin with. "It was humbling for me," Brown said of Naymick's stint with the team. "Those are your teammates. Those are the guys you got to go to war with all the time. Those are the guys, when they're feeling down or they're having a problem off the court, you got to try to help them lighten their load and vice versa on your end. Drew's a good dude. He's like a good-hearted person. He was telling me about how his dad had got sick. ... You try to help him as much as you can, try to give him advice and just wish the best for him." Brown said he will have some of the same feelings when he makes the trip back to Chicago and sees some of the faces who used to be in the same boat as him -- a kid who picked fights all the time to prove how tough he was while growing up in Maywood. "There's a lot of people that had 'names' growing up in high school that aren't doing as successful as they should," Brown said. "You go back to the neighborhood and see the people that you used to hang out with or the people that was on the team. It's humbling going back home, but at the same time I have to understand I did put in a lot of hard work, I did make sacrifices that other people didn't make." He feels humble, but not guilty for how fortunate he's become. "I've always tried to make my own decisions, but then you better live with them," Brown said. "There ain't no, 'He told me to do this,' or 'She told me to do this,' or it's because of this person or that person. I can't blame nobody else but myself." His decisions will soon go from solo choices to a duet. He proposed to Monica in October after meeting her on the set of a music video. "She's a great, great, great spirit," Brown said. "She's a great girl. She's very mature. She's been through a lot. She has a crazy background herself. We just fit well together." Monica sang the national anthem in Boston prior to Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals, but there was no initial rockets' red glare to their love. "Actually, it's funny because we didn't really hit it off when we first saw each other," Brown said. "But being the people that we are and having a lot of similarities between ourselves, we just, I don't know, some type of connection came about. She's definitely helped me settle down a whole lot and brought balance to what I'm trying to do on the court and off the court. And I'm just, I'm happy." In what seems to be a new Lakers tradition, Brown joins the ranks of teammates Lamar Odom (Khloe Kardashian) and Sasha Vujacic (Maria Sharapova) whose significant others might be more famous than they are.
He tries because Tatiana, Petey and Calvin can't try for themselves anymore. He tries because he's the guy who made it out of three D-League assignments to become a two-time NBA champion. He tries because he's the guy who gets to play for the Lakers while his high school teammate, Dee Brown, couldn't make his NBA dream last and is now playing overseas.” -- Shannon Brown
"She's touched a lot of people with her music," Brown said of Monica, whose Twitter account has 390,000-plus more followers than his. "She's on some whole different type of fame. I don't know what to do sometimes."Bryant is still more famous than all of them, and Brown had a laugh with his teammate when they talked about the connection of Bryant's old prom date to Brown's future wife. "That was funny," Brown said. "I can't tell you what Kobe said about that. Kobe's crazy, man. But we definitely talked about that. That's hilarious. Everything comes back around." Brown will throw his third and final 25th birthday party after the Bulls game on Friday (he had parties in Memphis and L.A. already). It's one of those times when he finds himself looking back and looking forward simultaneously. He could have left for another team and become a free agent this summer. The Knicks were interested. So were the Cavaliers. He would have been justified, too. Those teams were offering more money and more playing time. He certainly wouldn't endure anything like he did in the Finals, when his playing time was cut to just 19 seconds in Game 5 after he had been a regular contributor all season long. "On the court, I knew the potential," Brown said, explaining why he decided to come back to L.A. "Yeah, the money plays a part in it and makes you think about a lot of things, but I'm happy here." When asked if Brown will be part of the future of the franchise after this season, Kupchak said, "I can envision it." Brown will always remember to look back as he moves forward. "Sometimes you sit back and think and reflect on what you used to do, where you used to stay, how you used to do things, and now sometimes I just find myself like, 'Man, thank you,'" Brown said. "Just saying, 'Thank you, God.' It's just humbling ... just a humbling experience." Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter. http://twitter.com/mcten.