The story behind Dee Brown’s ‘No Look’ dunk
The former Celtics star talks setting the bar at All-Star’s most exciting contest and putting Reebok on the map
Remember Dee Brown’s “No-Look” dunk? The then-Boston Celtics guard sealed a 1991 NBA Slam Dunk contest championship with his eyes closed and his right arm bent covering his eyes for good measure.
Brown, who now serves as the Los Angeles Clippers’ director of player programs, acknowledges that his famous slam was a highlight of his 12-year NBA career. With the NBA Slam Dunk contest returning Saturday, Brown told the surprising backstory of his famous dunk, how it impacted his career and put Reebok on the map and how some kids give him credit for a recent popular hip-hop dance because of it.
What was going through your mind before your final dunk?
It was crazy because I didn’t know I had won the contest yet. Shawn Kemp just had an unbelievable dunk where he took off from almost the free throw line. His foot almost touched his back. I was thinking, ‘I got to do something special. I got to do a signature dunk that people remember me for 25 years later.’
Michael Jordan had the dunk from the free throw line. Dominique Wilkins had the windmill [dunks] with power. I had to do something that was a signature that the only person that had done it was Dee Brown. I was sitting, getting ready for my dunk. I was thinking about different things going for my last dunk. I decided to close my eyes. No one had done that before. This is my last dunk of the contest. I think I had already won, but I didn’t know that. I had to do something signature just to make sure.
I got the ball. Stood up. And I decided I was going to close my eyes while I’m running. Organically, I jumped, closed my eyes and thought, ‘I got to put my hand over my eyes.’ As I moved my left arm for the dunk, my right arm kept going toward my head to make sure my eyes were closed and I couldn’t see. I never practiced. Didn’t know I was going to do it. I was hoping I didn’t hit the side of the backboard. The rest is history.
How did you get the idea for that dunk?
I don’t know how I got the idea, honestly. I wish I could say I practiced for that dunk. I didn’t. If you look at me running and look at that dunk, I didn’t have my arm set to do that. I was going up for that dunk and then all of the sudden my arm started moving in the air. It was kind of natural. Wasn’t forced.
If I just did it with my eyes closed, people behind me would have never seen what I did. But my arm was just natural. It was my body movement and I put my hand up. I just wanted to cover my eyes and my eyes were closed.
What went through your mind afterward?
I was happy because I knew that I won. I knew that dunk was No. 1. I knew it was a signature dunk that no one had ever seen before. At that time, we couldn’t use props. We couldn’t jump over chairs because of NBA rules. You couldn’t jump over cars. All those guys could do that back in the ’90s. But we just couldn’t do it because there were different rules back then in the dunk contest. You had to be really creative with a lot of dunks. You had to have eight dunks. But that one was special because of covering my eyes.
To me, that wasn’t my best dunk. I did a two-ball dunk with one ball already sitting up there. Dunk one and grab the other one and dunk it. It was different. And it was the last dunk. It was the finale of winning the contest.
What were your thoughts when you saw the replay of that dunk for the first time?
Really, the first time I really saw it was the picture Reebok took out the next day in USA Today in a full-page ad on Monday. There was no internet. That was the first time I saw it. That was an iconic picture. Back then, USA Today was the paper. If you’re in USA Today, you made it. That was probably the best moment I had individually when a company took a full-page ad on my dunk.
Do you believe you’re famous mostly for that dunk?
Of course. A Celtic winning a dunk contest never happened. Being a rookie in the dunk contest, being a small guy, wearing [Reebok] Pumps on top of it, if that wasn’t in correlation with it, I don’t know if it would still be talked about 25 years later. But that show jumped off. Before then, it was just Michael. Doing that kind of put Reebok on the basketball map for a few years or helped them get guys like Shawn Kemp, [Allen] Iverson came after that, Shaquille [O’Neal].
Reebok was all of the sudden a player in the shoe market. You got to have money to get the big-time players. And I think I made them a lot of money.
How did you originally sign a shoe contract with Reebok?
They were the only shoe company that showed me interest. I was playing for the Celtics. They [Reebok] were local. I was a first-round pick, but I wasn’t a big name. I came from a small school. At that time, if you weren’t a big name they weren’t giving you a shoe contract. I was like, ‘Whatever y’all want to give, I’ll take it. And I get free shoes.’ I got a three- or four-year contract. I got like $50,000-$75,000.
Did your contract change after the dunk contest?
Yeah, it changed. It changed. To this day, I still do stuff for Reebok. I do marketing stuff when a shoe comes out. Anytime you think about The Pump, the first person you think about is Dee Brown. That’s special. I’ve had so many different shoes. At that time, there were only three guys that had their own signature shoe. It was me, Jordan and [Charles] Barkley. Someone doesn’t fit in that group and I know exactly who it is. It was me. But I was the Reebok guy.
Those guys were All-Stars, Hall of Famers. I was just very good at selling a shoe.
Did that dunk contest change your life?
It changed my life because to this day everywhere that I go people still ask me, ‘Could you see when you did that dunk?’ ‘Can you still do the dunk?’ ‘I bought shoes because of The Pump and I thought it would make me jump higher.’ Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t talk about that dunk to me.
Then on top of this, my daughter, obviously I got young kids, they hipped me to ‘The Dab,’ thing. Then when that came up, they said, ‘Are you the one who invented The Dab?’ One doesn’t have anything to do with the other. I get Googled. I get a lot of, ‘You’re the first person to dab.’ I’m like, ‘OK, I guess. I don’t even know what that is, but OK.’ The [dance] spearheaded the memory of that dunk again.