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Dillon Brooks is irreplaceable

The Grizzlies have learned an important lesson this year.

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

I’m going to talk about Dillon Brooks, but first, I want to talk about a random kid I played against in AAU my sophomore year of high school.

I don’t remember where exactly in Memphis this game was, but if you know anything about the local AAU circuit, you already know that the facilities and location for games are often not...ideal. We played on—and I swear I’m not making this up—a blue concrete court, which did have pretty solid traction if I were to have a nice thing to say about it. But a blue playing field is only acceptable when Boise State is playing football, not for an inexplicably indoor concrete basketball court.

As we were walking onto the court right before tip-off, a player from the opposing team immediately ran up to me and began walking shoulder-to-shoulder with me while generally just getting into my personal space. He was a strange-looking dude; he was a roughly 5’2 kid with dreads that were almost as long as his arms, and he really looked tiny even next to me at just 5’6 and 130 pounds at the time. The first and only thing he said to me that entire game: “I’m gonna bust your ass* white boy.”

*I hope my church doesn’t see this!

And busting my bottom is exactly what this little guy did. To this day, no one has ever chest/face-guarded me like this dude did, and I don't think I’ve ever been more annoyed by my matchup in a basketball game. He would make all these weird guttural noises while guarding me, and if I even so much as passed the ball, he would start maniacally clapping. It only pissed me off more that I ultimately didn’t play well, mainly because of his tenacity and antics. I think I may have shoved him at one point, which was really out of character for me; I knew at my size that the only fights I was probably winning were in Super Smash Bros.

We did win that game, despite the efforts of this goofy villain’s determination to frustrate me and take me out of the game. I occasionally wonder what he’s up to nowadays.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I really do think that his basketball spirit lives on in Dillon Brooks, who has become the frustrating villain that the all-too-friendly NBA in 2021 needs. I mean, this clip of Damian Lillard talking about him after Brooks harassed him into an 8-27 shooting performance gives off some Tupac-Biggie vibes.

To be sure, the Dillon Brooks experience is something that’s hard to truly articulate. It can be transcendent, such as when he rattles off 8 straight points in the 4th quarter of a game where the Grizzlies are on the brink of elimination. It’s often frustratingly chaotic, such as when he attempts his best Kobe Bryant impersonation and scores 30 points on 28 shots like he did against the Sacramento Kings last week. It’s often hilarious, like when he brought the Compton out of a frustrated DeMar DeRozan in a January regular season game (on an unrelated note, “DeMar DeFrozen” was trending on Twitter after he shot 5-21 against him primarily).

Unprecedented is another word that can be used; Brooks, a wing player, has now led the NBA in fouling two years in a row, which is so remarkably absurd that even Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t quite sure how he’s done it.

Whenever Dillon Brooks steps onto the court, you’re never exactly sure what’s about to happen, but you will know that he’s going to always bring pure, unadulterated tenacity and hustle on both ends of the court. And that reality has made him one of the more compelling players in the NBA.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

At its heart, basketball is a game of uncertainty, with inches often being the difference between debilitating heartbreak and unadulterated joy. If you were in the building on the night when Stephen Curry made a 70-foot heave to effectively end the Grizzlies’ chances of advancing in the playoffs, you have may have already embraced the inevitable nihilism that the unrelenting uncertainty of basketball can bring.

However, Dillon Brooks is someone who epitomizes poet Dylan Thomas’ desire to rage against the dying of the light. Memphis is used to that. For the Memphis Grizzlies and the vast majority of other small market NBA franchises in particular, failure may always be inevitable. But you can always be assured that Brooks will do everything that his ability will allow him—and granted, he will try to do a lot more than that—to ward off that same inevitability.

Dillon Brooks is not going to stop Luka Doncic from making a ridiculous one-legged runner at the buzzer. Even if he personally excels against him on defense (and the Grizzlies will need him to do so on Friday), he’s not going to keep Stephen Curry from continuing his onward march to claiming the title as the best point guard in NBA history. For all of his irrational swagger and tenacious defense that should earn him a spot on an all-defense team, there are some things that he can’t do.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

However, you’re a fool if you think that he won’t try. And even if his efforts ultimately won’t be enough for the Grizzlies to triumph in the end, he will have made life a living hell for those who beat them. In a way, he’s a remaining symbol of a bygone era. A Grindson, if you will.

In the coming years, the Memphis Grizzlies will continue to change and evolve. Old faces will leave, new faces will arrive, and goals will shift toward reaching greatness in the present rather than the future. But if they are to get there, they will always need someone who has the irrational confidence to always rise to the occasion when the lights are brightest. They will always need someone who will look the other team’s best player square in the eye and say, “I’m gonna bust your *redacted*

On both ends of the court, Dillon Brooks has become frustratingly irreplaceable, an undeniable force who’s willing to take the toughest of shots while defending the most difficult of assignments. When the chips are down, there’s no one else that the Memphis Grizzlies can trust more to rise to the occasion.

Not bad for a 45th pick in an NBA Draft.

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