Dillon Brooks wants you to stay mad
IT’S ABOUT an hour before the warning in Memphis, Tennessee, home of the Timberwolves, when I approach the NBA’s most famous player to inform him that I will be stalking him for about a week.
Dillon Brooks, the man who earned and adopted the moniker “Dillon the Villain,” looks into his locker as he says, as an introduction, “You’ll get some good out of me.”
This is welcome news. I hoped that there was still a lot of good ahead, as he defines it. He nods and explains, “It’s still ahead because there are still teams that the Grizzlies haven’t played yet. He shrugs. Everything is very linear and rational. Good things seem to tend to overwhelm the uninitiated disproportionately.
“Looks like you have a better chance of making more friends,” I say.
“Oh yes,” he says, a lot of more friends.”
I am laughing. He is not.
THERE IS NOTHING sensitive to the way Dillon Brooks plays basketball. He grabs and pushes, pushes with his shoulders and checks his hips. He breaks through screens with the finesse of a brick through a window, making sure to hit with two hands (at least) everyone in his path. He dives for lost balls with no concern for himself or anyone else, and there are times when (their) limbs are endangered by (his) limbs. There are many, many times when contact lasts only too long and only a little rougher than necessary. Make whatever you want out of it.
He perfected the elusive art of interfering. His only goal is to deny the beauty of the game, and he does it the old way: pestering, annoying, incessant contact. Being under his guard is like wearing a human body – a big, strong, sweating human body – for almost two hours. This is a 6-foot-7 small forward/shooting guard who can rival the best shooters in the NBA, no matter their height or position, from Steph Curry to Giannis Antetokounmpo, from James Harden to Kevin Durant. His intentions are the same every time. “Be like a fly,” he says in a low growl.
He is known for his defense and is better known as the league’s top instigator. But there is, if you squint and look closely, a method among madness. On a rival team like the Grizzlies, Brooks’ influence is easy to underestimate. But in creating endless tension and devouring the league’s collective vitriol, Brooks is freeing two Grizzlies stars – Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. – to use their talent vectors and avoid the darker underside of the game.
“You have to have that person,” says Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins. “He definitely gets a lot of attention and it might seem very selfish and personal, but it’s not.”
There is also an inevitable element of unpredictability. Brooks is sliding on both sides of a fine line: calculated antagonism on the one hand, active discontent on the other. The side he chooses in the last quarter of the season and in the playoffs could decide the fate of Memphis. The list of those he has provoked – Gary Peyton II, Harden, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and especially Donovan Mitchell – is long and growing if he wants to. His notoriety grew with each incident, peaking in 12 days in late January and early February when: (A) he, several teammates, and Morant’s father, T, nearly got into a court-side fight with an NFL Hall of Famer and Fox Sports member. commentator Shannon Sharp, who, to be fair to Brooks, provoked the situation by interrupting the Grizzlies in general and Brooks in particular; (B) He provoked an on-court melee against the Cavaliers in early February by punching Mitchell in the most tender spots and falling to the baseline after a miss.
Mitchell and most of the world thought it was a deliberate cheap shot. “Of course,” Mitchell said at the time. “It’s just who he is. We’ve seen a lot of stuff in this league with him… It’s been brewing for years with me, with other guys in the league. You see it all, it’s not new.” … The NBA needs to do something about it.”
In the close fraternity of the NBA, especially among veteran players, the call for the league to “do something” with another player is almost shocking. Brooks, who says he has “maybe four or five friends” in the league, not counting his teammates, says, “I take it all as bullshit —-. Is this the same guy who said all these great things about me after (2021 playoff series won by the Jazz in five games) and now he wants to turn around and say it? For me, it’s just bed talk. The next time we play it will be the same. And he knows. I am clear in his mind, even to this day. And that’s all I want: some real estate in his head.”
He pauses and seems to replay Mitchell’s words in his head. Reoffended two weeks after the fait accompli, he shakes his head and spits.”intimate conversation.”
Brooks speaks in a low, low voice, as if he is trying not to be heard. He describes meeting Mitchell as nothing special, just one of a kind. “I fell uncontrollably,” he says. “I unintentionally raised my hand, hit him, and then he escalated the situation and I received a one-game suspension. That’s what comes with it.”
This, of course, strains the boundaries of gullibility. Yes, he was falling backwards, but it’s hard to believe that his hand accidentally found the most vulnerable part of Mitchell’s body by some accident of reflexes and anatomy. After all, there is a video.
Brooks shrugs. This is his reality, and this is what happens in it.
HOW NBA The game has expanded and accelerated, and with it the function and form of the enforcer has changed. Maurice Lucas, Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn were replaced by Patrick Beverly, Marcus Smart and Dillon Brooks. Blind tackles on lane drives were replaced with insistence chin to chin, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, with occasional groin strikes to keep them fair.
It may seem counterintuitive, but with a league average of over 114 points per game — and only two teams averaging less than 110 per game — a championship-seeking team desperately needs a quarterback who can stand up and stay in the way. Some people, frankly, are more interested in making enemies than friends. The Grizzlies, despite an influx of stars to the West at the trade deadline, remain second in the conference behind the Nuggets, and with a core of young stars led by Morant and Jackson, they believe they can challenge for the NBA title. Now.
“For the program we are developing here, D.B. is a guy who embodies it and doesn’t back down from it,” Jenkins says of Brooks. “We need him. He is competitive in everything he does. It’s on the basketball field, in the practice room, in our shooting games, in pre-game practice, at the card table, in the way he dresses for the game. it’s all competitive. This is the most important thing we bring and the biggest thing we need.”
Brooks, 27, who became a free agent after this season, announces himself every night, after introductions and before the start of the game, crouching near the middle of the court and performing a series of quick defensive slides, three to the left and three to the right, in case anyone is unclear Why is he there. He is a stocky man with broad shoulders and strong legs, and when he is on the court, everything about him – his gaze, his posture, his walk – takes on the form of a challenge.
“This is not a job that everyone wants,” he says dryly, “and that sets me apart from others. Guys don’t like to deal with physical factors. They don’t like being beaten. all night long.”
Just last Thursday, in the third minute of a game with Philadelphia, Brooks fouled James Harden above the three-point arc and continued to foul long after the whistle blew. Harden, certainly not known for his emotional outbursts, turned to face Brooks, leaving the two nose to beard for a few tense moments. Brooks left laughing.
“Teams don’t like playing against him,” says Grizzlies teammate Santi Aldama. “Sometimes they just roll their eyes, like:A cursewhat is it with this guy? But having him on our team is great. I always say one thing: I’d rather have him on my team than play against him.”
Before every game, Brooks spends about four hours studying his opponent: his tendencies, his tells, his mood. He starts by focusing on his individual task, whether they like to go right or left, what shots they like to take while moving to the right or left. If he is facing a 3-point shooter who prefers not to drive, he will take the higher route to challenge the 3-pointer, knowing that the drive is less of a threat. He always challenges the 3-point shooter with the same hand as the shooter’s lead hand to minimize the chance of body contact. He flies at a right-handed shooter with his right arm raised; Left handed shooter. Thus, the smaller part of his body is in line with the shooter. However, he tries to give the appearance of an impending collision without making contact. “They feel like I’m going to hit them,” he says, “but I won’t because I’m super focused.”
He spends up to 15 minutes playing opposing games, pausing the movie to listen to the coach’s call and then watching the game to see if it’s like the one described in the Grizzlies book. “We all put on the same performances, they just have different names,” he says. “There’s a game in Utah called ‘Fist Up’ which is similar to our ‘Dribble Fist’ so when they call it I yell ‘Dribble Fist’ and it lets my teammates know what kind of game they are playing.”
He knows whose skin he can burrow under (most) and under whose skin he can’t (Curry, Damian Lillard). Of Curry, he says: “He saw everything, he was guarded by all sorts of defenders. Every game for him, illegal screens every night, but he’s the kind of guy who’s mentally strong when he plays against me.” Brooks studies referees the same way he studies opponents. Some crew…