Daniel "Dee" Brown is concluding a remarkable four-year run at the University of Illinois. The lightning quick guard brought his All-American credentials to the Illini from Proviso East high school in the fall of 2002, and he has more than lived up to the hype.
Dee Brown has often been called the "Poster Child" for Illinois basketball, and for good reason. His effervescent smile and unbridled childlike enthusiasm on and off the court light up the lives of those who appreciate him. He shines with a brightness that could light up the darkest rooms. Parental instincts require many of his adorning fans to support him as they would their own child and elevate him onto a pedestal at the center of their personal universes. Even fans at other universities forget their own team preferences when there is a chance to meet or get the autograph of the Illini's special one.
Dee Brown has a rare destiny, and many people have become caught up in his remarkable charisma. He is one of those unique people who are noticed and beloved by the masses. Dee is the Sun, and his devotees are the planets that revolve around him. He is the comet flashing brightly across the Milky Way, his followers attaching themselves to his wake. He is the rock star, the beauty queen, the superhero. A person with such a strong magnetic attraction comes along once in a lifetime; in fact, he may be one of the first of his kind at Illinois.
Many journalists have tried to describe him accurately, but words often fail to do his game or his personality justice. Dee Brown is a wonderful basketball player with a high basketball IQ and is among the Illinois career leaders in scoring, assists, and steals. He is a warrior and a winner (he and James Augustine are tied for most career wins in Illini history). He is electric to watch and generates a tremendous fan following. He has done more to glorify the name Illinois than most other athletes in Illini history regardless of their sport. And he has become a leader, this year helping the younger players on the team learn what it takes to compete within the conference and nationally.
Dee has many basketball tools at his disposal. He is an excellent shooter, a dedicated passer to set up teammates for easy baskets, and an exciting, ball-stealing defender. And he seems to thrive under pressure, saving many of his best games for when the Illini have needed him most. But his one most special ability, the one thing that gives him an edge against all foes, is his blinding speed.
It is his straight-ahead speed that most excites the fans because they know he can break away for a layup or flash into the passing lanes for a key steal at any time. And it is this one talent that puts extreme pressure on opponents because it cannot be defended by most normal college players. Defenders must put so much pressure on themselves to stay with Dee that his teammates are often left open for easy shots as a result.
Illinois would have struggled greatly without Dee in the lineup this year even though his shooting percentage has suffered at times. Frequently, he has sacrificed his own game to help his teammates improve theirs. And he has taken upon himself the great pressure of needing to make a play deep into the shot clock. He has even shown a willingness to improve his own game despite all the previous accolades, learning more about the point guard position with each passing game. Despite not getting to practice over the summer due to a broken foot, Dee is learning to penetrate defenses both to assist teammates for baskets and to score on the interior.
This has not always been easy for a slightly built guard who lacks the powerful leaping ability and lateral quickness necessary to create within the paint where opponents tower over him. But he continues to learn more about setting up teammates and finding the proper passing angles to give his teammates the best chance to score. And he is learning how to arch a soft push shot over the outstretched arms of opposing centers.
Beyond the basketball skills, Dee Brown has been a glorious international advertisement for the University of Illinois. Dee's love of Illinois is almost as strong as his immense love of basketball. And he tells anyone who will listen all about both. Fans will not soon forget images of Dee Brown flashing the "Illinois" part of his jersey for all to see after great plays. Dee has done more to glorify Illinois among the masses than all the UI's nobel laureates put together. He is truly an Illinois and national treasure.
Dee Brown is a streaky, all-or-none kind of athlete. He might have bad games where he has a low shooting percentage, and then he might have a game where he makes every shot imaginable. He might score most or all of his points in one half and have nothing to show for the other half. He will play with great energy in one game and then be unable to sustain that highest energy in others. But in the minds of some, Dee Brown can do no wrong.
Dee Brown won Player of the Year honors in the Big 10 last year. This award was deserved, although one might argue that teammate Deron Williams was the more valuable on the Illini's great Final Four team. Brown's steals for layups late in the game at Michigan last year sealed the vote for him, but he also had several games on each side of that special night that were average at best. Dee's popularity and charisma are such that even neutral observers became caught up in the Dee Experience and voted for him in conference balloting.
In some ways, this assumption of greatness hurts Dee as the pressure on him is immense. People expect him to be practically perfect all the time. But if they would observe his behavior on the court and look at his facial expressions, they would see an athlete who sometimes wears down and cannot always give that wonderful catalytic energy that Illini players and fans have come to expect. Even if he was given the luxury of some well-deserved rest during games, he cannot always provide the necessary spark. But the general public will remember him as someone who had constant energy and dominated play at all times. Such is the nature of Dee Brown's special destiny.
Dee's charisma may also have hurt Illinois some in recruiting, despite Dee's own quest to attract great players to play with him. After all, not all athletes have the personal confidence necessary to feel secure about their own games and future NBA potential when Dee is receiving all the publicity and credit. For instance, one must wonder if Dee's high school teammate and friend Shannon Brown, now a junior star at Michigan State and future NBA draftee, might have chosen MSU over Illinois in part to carve out his own niche in a separate environment.
To state the obvious, Dee Brown is one of the greatest players in Illini basketball history. Few if any question this conclusion. There is now a push by some fans to get Brown's jersey retired, which would be a first for Illinois. However, there is no similar push by the UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics at this time. Perhaps a discussion of this situation is in order.
First of all, trying to find commonality between Dee's actual accomplishments and his popularity can be difficult if not impossible. After all, some fans have mentally anointed Dee Brown as their King and are willing to follow him blindly wherever he goes. A few are so blinded by his bright light they simply cannot see any imperfections, and they attack anyone who dares say something less than stellar about him. Dee has statistics that prove his outstanding quality, but those statistics still do not account for his popularity.
In contrast, the U of I Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has to consider the criteria they must use to judge all-time greatness. Only three former athletes have had their numbers retired, football players Red Grange and Dick Butkus and baseball star Lou Boudreau. No basketball players have as yet been so honored. The three who were retired were all legendary college athletes who had continued achievement at the pro level and/or other aspects of their lives. They were most special among the most special. The U of I does not give out such an award frivolously so as not to minimize the importance of the award.
If Dee Brown were to someday have his jersey retired, it would likely be as a result of a vote by a committee of former basketball stars at Illinois where cold logic would take precedence over emotional preference. And it would have to be in a vote that compared Dee with all the greatest basketball players in Illini history. Most if not all of the 20 individuals named as our All-Century Team would have to be evaluated, and recent stars like Deron Williams, Luther Head and James Augustine would deserve consideration as well. It is unlikely such a committee could vote to retire Dee Brown without also wishing to retire players like Don Freeman, Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, Kendall Gill, Deon Thomas, Brian Cook and several others.
Rather than diluting the importance of jersey retirement, an alternative might be a "Wall of Fame" or other special tribute honoring all the greatest Illini basketball players. No numbers would be retired, but jerseys with the names of the players might be hung from the rafters of Assembly Hall or displayed on a wall to pay proper tribute to those who have come before. This would also undoubtedly gain some consideration.
But the legend of Dee Brown transcends concerns about jersey retirements. One need not see his jersey hanging from the ceiling to remember Dee Brown. And no display can accurately reflect all he has meant to the UI anyway. Everyone who has seen him play has a memory of his specialness, and they have shared in the joy of victory followed by glorious victory. Dee Brown has shared his unbounded loving energy with the entire nation and especially Illini fans, and that energy remains in the hearts and minds of all who have reveled in his game.
More than any other single individual, Dee Brown has helped transform Illini fans into permanent fanatics. Illinois had success before Dee arrived on campus, and Orange Krush was already well formed and performing at a fever pitch to help the Illini win. But Dee Brown helped give the fans the unconditional love to overcome their tendency to protect their hearts during difficult times. For the most part, the fans now support Illinois win or lose, and the Krush are overflowing in numbers and traveling to away games in groups larger than ever seen before.
Truly, Dee Brown is the epitome of all that is good about Illinois basketball. The memory of his presence at Illinois will live on long after he leaves campus. He has helped elevate Illinois to elite status nationally. So perhaps there is still another way we can consider to pay tribute to Dee Brown.
The Assembly Hall is dripping with the positive energy deposited there by Dee Brown, his teammates and his fans. And with all the wins in recent years, one can argue that Assembly Hall is now an outstanding venue for college basketball. But frankly, the Assembly Hall has become great because Illini teams have won and the fans have embraced them and not vice versa. Fans so positive, loving and devoted can make any facility seem special, including the Assembly Hall.
But during down times and less than capacity crowds, Illini fans have trouble generating noise and rabid support because the sounds they make get lost in the vast pockets of empty space that reside permanently in the Assembly Hall. A decision on whether to renovate the Assembly Hall or build a new facility is on the backburner as the renovation needs of Memorial Stadium take first precedence. But the Assembly Hall was never really built for basketball.
So if we someday build a new facility, a facility this writer has wished for since the late 1960's, it may be Dee Brown who can be credited, at least in part, for helping generate the financial support necessary to build it. Thus, it might be fitting to walk into the new facility, built specially to make it a true snake pit for opposing teams, and see a life-size cut-out of Dee Brown with his patented smile greeting everyone. Truly, it would be "The House That Dee Built".
Regardless whether a special tribute is created for him, the name Dee Brown will be revered in the hearts and minds of Illinois fans for as long as they live. Visions of Dee with his knee-high socks and ever-present headband speeding past defenders for uncontested layups, popping free off a screen to throw down a 25-foot dagger, racing into the passing lanes for a lightning-fast theft, or flashing his Illini pride will sustain Illini basketball fans for as long as there is a game to watch. The voice of Illini public address announcer Jim Sheppard stating, "Deeeeeee for Three", will reverberate within the minds of all who remember Dee Brown.
Dee Brown is a true icon who holds a unique place in Illinois history, and Illinois will be well advised to hire him in some capacity, indeed any capacity, once his playing days are over. Of course, this may be awhile because some NBA team will draft him for his ability to sell tickets as well as his basketball skills. But when he has finally left behind his playing days, his charisma and smarts will serve him well in any career he chooses to enter.
There can be no better ambassador of good will for the University of Illinois. Dee Brown, thanks for the memories and best wishes for making your pro dreams come true.
IlliniBoard.com would also like you to share your favorite Dee Brown memory in the IlliniBoard.com Dee Brown Tribute Thread on the Hoops Board.