Dillon Brooks and the birth of a Canadian villain

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Dillon Brooks is doing everything in his power to become the next bad guy in the NBA.

The 27-year-old forward from Mississauga, Ontario has picked up enough technical fouls this season to earn two one-game bans. He punched Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell in the groin, which started a fight. He pushed a cameraman, which resulted in a fine. And in last year’s playoffs, he hit Gary Payton II while he was in the air, breaking his elbow.

And Brooks went back and forth with the NBA’s reigning irritant extraordinaire, Warriors forward Draymond Green, all season long, their beef pouring off the court in written and podcast soliloquies.

But everything pales in comparison to calling the greatest player of this “old” and “tired” generation last week. Brooks added that LeBron James “isn’t on the same level as when he was in Cleveland winning championships, Miami… I hit bears. I don’t respect anyone until they come and give me 40 [points].”

James, of course, responded in typical James style, not dropping 40 but dismantling the Grizzlies in a 111-101 win on Saturday night, exiting with a 35-9 first quarter lead and personally going 25-9-5. The performance caused enough frustration for Brooks, who made it 3-13 while serving as James’ lead defenseman, to be ejected in the third quarter for — and stop me if you’ve heard this before — hitting James in the groin. He says he was going to get the ballbut unfortunately it hit two of them.

Related: LeBron James takes revenge for ‘old’ comments as Brooks is ejected in Lakers win

Brooks is building quite a reputation in his sixth NBA season. With Grizzlies star Ja Morant in and out of the lineup with injuries and a suspension and co-star Jaren Jackson Jr quietly minding his business with his best offensive season ever and the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year to boot, Brooks took it upon himself to become the Grizzlies’ (overly) emotional leader and irritant on the court.

And, barring exceptions like James’s game on Saturday, it often works, with Brooks’ defensive antics getting into the skin of some of the best players in the world (with the All-Stars shooting against him at worse percentages than anyone else). in the league) and his post-game quotes become a regular topic on NBA talk shows and podcasts.

“I want them to be angry, emotionally out of place,” Brooks says of his annoying defense, which is what got him to the NBA and kept him there. “With some guys it’s scary, 100%. They don’t want to talk to me or even look at me.”

But he’s Canadian, you might think. I’m not should they be the nice ones? The truth is that Brooks is a pest not despite being Canadian, but because of it. Growing up in Mississauga at a time when coming to the NBA from Canada was a more difficult proposition, Brooks had no choice but to find an edge.


Mississauga is a hotbed of basketball talent. The densely populated western suburb of Toronto is made up of immigrant communities who have settled in the Greater Toronto area in search of a better life. It’s the kind of environment that breeds a tough mentality, one that has produced many talented athletes and basketball players, including New York Knicks forward RJ Barrett, Atlanta Dream recruit Laeticia Amihere, and, of course, Brooks.

Brooks grew up in northwest Mississauga, waking up at 6:30 every day and taking three buses to the Father Henry Carr High School Basketball Center in Toronto. It was there, in the days before prep schools started stripping away top talent, that Brooks formed his own basketball identity alongside other Canadians like Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Andrew Wiggins. Players who dreamed of making it to the NBA but didn’t have the role models to follow, with only eight Canadians in the NBA in 2012-13.

Brooks demolished and fought his way to prominence by competing in Greater Toronto gyms known for their unabashed competitiveness. Unlike the prep and AAU circuit where ball players grow up these days, Toronto’s high school teams played each other several times a year, with the same players returning year after year to compete for the rights to brag about the school and the neighborhood. Trash talk was a huge part of the culture and Brooks embraced it.

“I wouldn’t call [Brooks] a villain in high school, but he was That boy,” said former Henry Carr varsity head coach Paul Melnik. “You couldn’t watch us play and not make a note of him. If you were a parent of the other team, you probably didn’t like him. your son, and let you know.Because there was one thing about Dillon: He always had a little more fire in his belly than anyone else.

As good as he was in Canadian terms, establishing himself as one of his country’s top high school players and spending his senior year at Findlay Prep near Las Vegas, Brooks was still just a four-star high school recruit whose best offer came from from the University of Oregon. He spent three seasons there, becoming the Pac-12 Player of the Year as he led the Ducks to a Final Four appearance, before the Houston Rockets drafted him late in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft and immediately traded him to Memphis.

Brooks, like many Canadians at the time, was overlooked during his basketball journey. Growing up in the days before a record 23 of their countrymen played in the NBA and made regular All-Star teams, Canadians felt they had to work twice as hard just to get the same attention as American kids. And those like Brooks who were determined to make the NBA but lacked elite size, athleticism, or shooting were willing to do anything to find an edge. His way of doing that was by being a defensive-minded, trash-talking parasite. It worked.

After exceeding all expectations in high school and college, he became a starter just eight games into his NBA career in Memphis, where he is the Grizzlies’ longest-serving starter. He hasn’t looked back since.


On Sunday, the NBA announced that Brooks will receive no further penalties for his actions despite having his own track record of crossing the line. He will now be allowed to play in a crucial Game 4 against James and the Lakers on Monday. The decision was in stark contrast to the NBA’s punishment of Warriors forward Draymond Green, who was suspended for Game 3 of his team’s series against the Sacramento Kings “based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts” after stepping on the chest of Domas Sabonis.

Many fans and members of the media have wondered aloud why Green was suspended but not Brooks given the precedent set by the league, while others have asked all season why no one on the Grizzlies has told Brooks to relax and take on a more second-rate after shooting a career-low 40% from the field and 33% from three-point range while missing multiple games due to suspensions.

“The media made me a villain, the fans made me a villain and then that creates a completely different person about me,” Brooks said on Sunday. “So now you think I meant to hit LeBron James in the balls. I’m playing basketball. I am a basketball player. So if I meant – and this is all that falls into the flagrant category 2 – if you think I did that, that means you think I’m that kind of person.

His statement is strange to say the least: Many of Brooks’ antics this season have been completely unacceptable, from hitting James to shoving a cameraman. And when you walk the line between being a team player and an irritant whose job it is to emotionally drive and get under opponents’ skin – a job Brooks takes so seriously that he claims he only has four or five friends in the NBA out his team — it’s inevitable that you’ll occasionally cross that line like Green and Brooks did. Brooks is smart enough to know this – it’s disconcerting for him not to acknowledge it.

In fact, Green went so far as to admit that “at some point I’m going to get suspended again” following his ban against the Kings. And if Brooks were being honest, he’d say the same thing. Because for NBA players, especially those who have come out of Canada, turning off the competitive switch is much easier said than done.

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