Memphis Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks simply fails to relate to anyone else in the NBA. He is a late-second-round pick who has made his mark in the league, something many drafted in his same position have never done. Brooks is currently averaging a solid 14.2 points per game and 3.3 rebounds.
As notable as Brooks is on paper, his actual behavior on the court is of much more interest.
The Memphis Grizzlies Turned Heel in 2023
Teammate Ja Morant has been seen flashing guns on social media and talking extreme amounts of trash. The point guard has even been caught living it up in clubs while his team focuses on the regular season. But despite all his recent actions, Morant is not even the most disliked man on his team. Brooks has done an incredible job at annoying opponents in his sixth season in the league.
One of the first times Brooks' behavior caught the eyes of America came in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers back in January. Holding Lakers star forward LeBron James to 23 points, Brooks felt he had cracked the code after the game.
"He doesn't want to go left," Brooks said after the game. "I was just making him go left all game. He would settle or he would pass the ball."
Brooks may not have been wrong about his comments, but it didn't sit well with some after the incident that occurred during the game. Cameras and microphones picked up an angry James who explained in expletives that Brooks wasn't playing basketball but was instead focused on talking trash and disrespecting James.
Shortly after that happened, James flew down the court for a dunk over power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. It was clear James was upset.
On-Court Incidents Have Given Brooks a Reputation
Though the game against the Lakers was a strange moment, it was hardly enough to turn the masses against Brooks. The next time Brooks found himself in the news, however, the verbal altercations turned physical.
On Feb. 2, the Grizzlies battled the Cavaliers in Cleveland. In the middle of the third quarter, Brooks tangled himself up with Cavs 6-foot-1 guard Donovan Mitchell. As Brooks went to the floor on a play, he reached back and hit Mitchell right in the groin, sparking a fight between the two teams.
"That's just who he is. We've seen it a bunch in this league with him. Him and I have had our personal battles for years. Quite frankly, I've been busting his ass for years," Mitchell told reporters after the game. "The one game he does an alright job on me today, he does something like that. There's no place for that in the game, and you've got to protect yourself at the end of the day."
With another incident shining negative light on Brooks, the nail wasn't necessarily in the coffin just yet. After all, players are always battling on the court, and there have been several incidents in the past involving scrappy players such as Draymond Green and Patrick Beverley. These players have always been in the news for on-court moments, and Green even had several occasions in which he hit players in the groin, resulting in an eventual suspension in the 2016 playoffs.
Brooks took another step up the ladder of controversy on March 15 when, instead of shoving a player, the former Oregon Duck shoved a cameraman. Fined by the league $35,000 for the shove, Brooks showed little regard for the safety of the camera operator and drew even more criticism to himself.
Making matters worse, Brooks' attitude has not sat well with other prominent voices in the league. Ahead of a game against the Dallas Mavericks, Brooks called out guard Kyrie Irving.
"Now I can get him by myself today, so I want to see what he's all about. He had a couple of words for me in Brooklyn, so I can't wait to pick him up full every time and see him get exhausted," Brooks said.
Irving responded with a message that approved of Brooks' competitive nature but denounced his demeanor.
"Dillon hopes every best player plays, just because it makes the game a lot better competitive-wise," Irving said. "There's been a lot going on with him, seeing him in the middle of all the Draymond stuff. I mean, it makes it great for our league, but at the same time there's a maturity that we've got to have. Nothing should go over the line of personal stuff. If we keep it still strictly on the floor, I think we all have a greater time, but once it gets personal, I mean, you know what it turns into out there."
Only fitting the trend that this year has seen for Brooks, the guard-forward received a suspension for earning his 18th technical foul this season during the game between the Mavs and Grizzlies on March 20. After the game, Brooks and Irving embraced at half court. The former Cavalier then awkwardly rejected the jersey swap advances of Brooks, putting a strange end to the current saga of events associated with the Grizzlies' infamous player.
Brooks and the Grizzlies Face an Uncertain Road Forward, Despite Top Billing
While Brooks is the leader in controversy in the NBA, his team is still in a prime spot to compete for the title with a 49-29 record, good enough for second place in the Western Conference. There have been a number of ugly scenes on the way to the current prosperity Memphis is enjoying, and it can go a few different ways.
The best-case scenario for the NBA: This Grizzlies team mimics the attitude and recognition that the "bad boy" Detroit Pistons earned back in the 1980s. In the right situation, Morant will be viewed in the same light as Isaiah Thomas, and Brooks will eventually be respected the way Bill Laimbeer was by the fans who appreciated his style of play. Both of these players did anything to capture a championship — and the Grizzlies will need that same success to have a similar impact.
If Memphis doesn't win in this rocky but successful era, the team might never be respected but instead just be hated, an ugly scenario that the NBA will have no fun dealing with. The league will not want to repair its image without getting any of the elite championship return from the Memphis franchise to make up for it.
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