Remembering the time Doc Rivers coaxed Dee Brown (briefly) out of retirement

“Everyone got healthy, and I went back to my job.”

Dee Brown speaks to reporters after a Celtics practice in Waltham. The Boston Globe

Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are an above-.500 team again. What that means, exactly, for their long-term outlook is anyone’s guess. After all, it’s one thing to beat up on Lance Stephenson’s Pacers. It’s quite another to gear up for Giannis, James Harden, and the rest of the Eastern Conference’s top teams.

That’s not a shot at Lance Stephenson, by the way. Who doesn’t love having Lance back in the league? The return of guys like Stephenson (and Joe Johnson, and Isaiah Thomas) has been a silver lining in this omicron-infested NBA season.


It also provides an opportunity to share this random story about Dee Brown.

Yes. Dee Brown. A Celtic legend well-accustomed to living ahead of his time.

We’re talking about one of the first athletes to ever pump up a sneaker. The first Celtic to compete in the dunk contest and the first Brown to wear No. 7. 

Ahead of his time? Back in ’99, before everyone (not named Ben Simmons) was a shooter, Dee Brown led the NBA in made threes. 

That recent two-handed block by Ja Morant? Dee did it 30 years ago.  

Even this latest trend of players getting plucked out of retirement and thrown back into the NBA fire: Dee Brown has been there and done that. As the man himself says, “This ain’t new.”

In this case, the story begins in March 2002. At 33, Dee had retired the previous summer, and settled nicely into a front office job with the Orlando Magic. Or so he thought. Until one day he received a visit from head coach Doc Rivers.

Only 40 years old, Rivers was in his third season on the Magic bench, and he came to Dee a desperate manOrlando had been decimated by injuries. Most notably, Grant Hill. Most recently, Mike Miller. Treading water as the sixth seed in the East, Doc needed backcourt depth, but none of the free agent options inspired him. He wanted a player who might gel more organically.


As Dee recalls: “Doc said, ‘You know all the plays. You’re in shape. Come play for 20 days until we get healthy.”

The following night, March 13, 2002, Brown played three minutes in an overtime win against the Suns.

He was back.

But other than game nights, Dee’s life barely changed.

He still clocked in at the office on off-days, taking previously scheduled meetings and appointments. At home, his wife made it clear that he was not *back* in the NBA. She’d gotten used to him not coming home moody after games. She said if it was going to be like that, he might as well go live with Tracy McGrady. Instead, Dee kept the same routine, dropping off and picking up the kids every day from school. As he remembers: “It wasn’t my wife’s fault I signed a 10-day!”

On the court, he kept it simple. If he was open, he shot. If not, he passed. On defense, he just stayed in front of his man. He wasn’t trying to prove anything. He was trying to give Orlando some minutes and help them win some games. In related news, over his two 10-day contracts, the Magic went 5-3. Brown appeared in seven of those eight games, posting seven points and eight rebounds with three steals and a block. Then on March 29 against the Indiana Pacers, Mike Miller returned from injury, and Dee Brown returned to reality.


“Everyone got healthy,” he says, “and I went back to my job.”

And that will likely be the fate for the NBA’s current crop of throwbacks. The likes of Joe Johnson, who made more than $200M in his career, or even Lance Stephenson (who banked $35M+), might not need or want another job, but like Dee, they’ll fade back into our memories after making a few new ones of their own.

One day, 20 years down the road, they may even re-tell the story of their own unlikely return to the NBA. But even then, they’ll have to admit, as is usually the case: Dee Brown did it first. 


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