There’s not too many NBA players who can say they single handedly made a specific shoe brand famous. The most obvious one is Michael Jordan as his retro releases cause mayhem at malls across the globe. But after the All-Star Weekend in 1991, the legacy of dunk contest champion Dee Brown will forever be linked to the moment when he made his Reebok Pump sneakers iconic.
After being crowned champion with his trademark ‘no-look dunk,’ the Reebok Pump technology would rise to the top of the basketball sneaker game in the early ’90s. The 12-year veteran described that the shoe was simply “ahead of it’s time.”
We caught up with the former dunk champ to talk about his legendary shoes, Gerald Green’s own rendition of his ’91 dunk, his new role with the Sacramento Kings and about how he still has bounce.
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Dime: The sneaker that you made famous, the Pump Omni Light was back on the shelves this past June by popular demand. Talk a little bit about why you love this shoe?
Dee Brown: I mean the biggest thing when it first came out it was such a ground breaking shoe. Just the unique thing with the Pump, being able to form fit your foot with the shoe. And you know, I played in those shoes so it wasn’t anything that I thought was a gimmick or anything. I really used those because I didn’t like taping my ankles, you know? I wasn’t a big guy on taping ankles and stuff like that so I used the shoe for my support factor and so it was great. I didn’t have to tape my ankles. I could pump my shoes up and get the right [fit] depending on how I wanted to feel [that day]. If I wanted to go tighter, if I wanted to go a little looser, wear two pairs of socks- whatever. So it was good. That’s why I like these shoes. And the other thing- the look. You know being in Boston, we didn’t get a chance to wear black shoes a lot and when that shoe came out, we started to get the chance to wear black shoes and it was such a clean shoe. You know, all black with the little white accents with the orange ball which kind of threw it off the charts right there and that’s why I think people like it now. Because it’s such a clean looking shoe. It’s got a lot of colors to it. It’s a very simple shoe but it’s so advanced, you know. I just think that shoe was ahead of it’s time.
Dime: Talking about the little orange ball on the shoe. Take us back in time to the ’91 Dunk Contest and talk about your thoughts leading up to the very moment in which those shoes became iconic.
DB: Well, people always think that I kind of pre-planned that or Reebok told me to do it. Before the dunk contest, even when I had signed with the Celtics, I already had a Reebok contract already because I wanted to be with Reebok because they’re close to Boston and at that time in Stoughton. So my relationship with them, the person that I dealt with was Joanne Berzaken, who was one of the best people to deal with on a day to day basis as far as getting our shoes and our gear and stuff like that. So when I got invited to the contest it was pretty much “Hey..don’t embarrass us all” (laughs) and do what you do with the shoe and the Celtics. And just go out there and do what you can do because I had won the dunk contest the year before in college.
But there was no pre-planning. I didn’t tell them that I was going to do it, they didn’t tell me to do it. It was kind of like I got to get something different to get the crowd into it- to get the crowd on my side. You know, I was kind of the guy that nobody knew about as far as the dunk contest and so when I did it people were like “Wait a minute, this kid’s pumping his shoes up!” and it kind of go the crowd into it, got the judges into it- you know, Magic, Isaiah, those guys were excited… obviously the play-by-play commentary on the side, so it was great. Obviously people remember that.
It kind of spearheaded that shoe. You know, I tried that last dunk which I had never practiced before. I made that dunk up on the fly, the no-look. I had never practiced that dunk before. That was the first time I did it so either I was going to run to the side of the backboard or we’d be talking about it 20 years later, so everything was spontaneous. You know, certain things come to you and it just did. But that was the great part about that. Nothing was planned by myself or Reebok it was kind of just a spontaneous thing that became a whole marketing campaign upon itself. All of a sudden, you have people wearing Pumps and trying to do your dunk and Reebok became at that time (really popular)- really pushing Nike for selling that shoe versus selling other shoes like Jordans and Barkleys and the other ones that were out at that time. So it was exciting to be known about a shoe. You could say “Reebok Pump” and the first name that comes up is mine. It just makes you feel good that you’re iconic with that shoe. A lot of people can’t say that. You say “Nike” or “Jordans” it’s one person. It’s MJ. You say “Pump” you say “Dee Brown.” To be put in that category is fun to think about (laughs) but it’s kind of baffling sometimes that I made that kind of impression on kids and at that time putting shoes on the map.
Dime: Speaking about the same theme with the retro shoes, Reebok’s received great feedback in the sneaker game by bringing back the retros but they’re also dropping a shoe this fall that’s solely inspired by your iconic shoes- the Pumpspective Omni. What does it mean to have your legacy live on and play such an instrumental part in the new school sneaker game?
DB: It’s good again because now, you’re part of the whole process of just being… you’re officially old school now. When something comes back again and everybody thinks it’s hot, you’re an old school legend now and that makes you feel good because I’m still young. I’m 45 years old and I’ll go out there and play if I need to but for somebody to say when they see that shoe, when they see the Pump, “Wow… man I used to wear that shoe when I was a kid and I told my mom to save money up. That’s what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted the Pump because I thought it was going to make me jump higher and it made me jump higher because I saw you do it.” You know it makes you feel really good to be a part of that whole retro part of shoes. To come back and be a part of that history and that legacy of your name always being a part of it- that’s something that they can’t take away.
There’s certain things in your career that identify you. Obviously playing with the Celtics and playing with some great players. But on a personal level, obviously winning the dunk contest just the way that I did with the dunk and pumping my shoes up. I guarantee you that I’ve been in 20 countries over the past 10 years and no matter where I go from China to Australia to Spain, everybody knows the Pump. Everywhere I go people say, “You’re the guy that did the…” and guess what? They do the whole routine. They bend over and they pump the shoes. They don’t just say it. They got to show you how you did it. Not one shoe. They’ve got to bend down with both hands and do it with both tongues. And that makes you feel good that people still get excited about that. And I’m talking about people my age now or people that have kids now and there like, “Hey… you don’t know who this guy was? When I was your age…” and it’s this whole generational thing. It all just comes full circle and it just feels good that people are still talk about it and [that] my name’s still a part of what people think about the shoe and what they think about me.