The anniversary came and went, and the meme lived again.
It will pop up in the group chat that Dillon Brooks has with his former teammates at the University of Oregon, just as his current teammates will occasionally bring it to his attention or even University of Utah fans.
It is worthy theatre and the Memphis Grizzlies forward by way of Mississauga doesn’t shy away from it.
It’s not his nature to shy away from anything, especially contact, although the video in this case proves otherwise.
“It’s one of the best academy-award winning flops of all time,” said Brooks in an interview the other day as he was preparing to face his hometown Toronto Raptors on Monday night. “It always pops up – but by the way, like I scored  points that game and we won — but it was a good flop; I just tried to sell it too much.”
There is Brooks, sliding left to cut off Utah guard Sedrick Barefield on a drive and then launching himself backwards through the air and all the way across the lane like he’d stepped on an explosive device. Falling at the slightest hint of contact is hardly unusual when players are trying to embellish to draw a call, but this was a different level of commitment.
In this instance – the game in late January of 2017, as Brooks was poised to lead the Ducks to the Pac-12 title and an eventual Final Four run – was as if he was trying to draw a charging call by having someone in the balcony yank him backwards with all their might.
“I’m in that video, so, we always make fun of it,” says Raptors centre Chris Boucher, who played two seasons with Brooks at Oregon and will be facing his old friend Monday night. “Obviously, I think it’s one of the top flops in the sports for me [and] I was part of it. … It’s probably going to be one of the things I talk about. I can’t wait to see him because he’s having a wonderful season over there.”
It was featured on Good Morning America as “the worst flop ever” and won’t be dropped from the group chat anytime soon, but for Brooks, no regrets.
The Canadian national team hopeful doesn’t believe in them, and besides, it’s not the only time his live-large persona on the basketball court has drawn people’s attention for reasons beyond his ability to put the ball in the basket or his willingness to go chest-to-chest with some of the best players in the sport.
“He’s such a big character, when he did it if you look at all of us around him, we didn’t even react because that’s just Dillon Brooks that’s what he does,” said Dylan Ennis, another product of the CIA Bounce program who played Brooks and Boucher at Oregon and is now playing professionally in Spain. “It blew up later and obviously became a big video, but to us, that was just Dillon being Dillon.
“Every now and then it will get posted on one of those basketball Instagram pages and somebody will throw it in the group and we’ll laugh about it. Just Dillon being Dillon: creating – not in a bad way – a bit of circus.”
As longtime Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga put it: “Dylan has had many, many championship moments at Oregon, and is going to go down as one of the all-time greats, and arguably the greatest player in Oregon history. He really, really resonated and established what we’re about. But that particular moment? I don’t want to throw Dylan too much under the bus, but every other week we’d have other moments like that, that weren’t caught on video.”
Brooks takes it in stride because if he’d paid too much attention to what people thought, he’d never have made it to where is, as the starting small forward on one of the NBA’s most promising young teams. He was often cut from provincial teams growing up; was lightly recruited before Mennenga’s deep ties to the Toronto area (he was an assistant at Canisius before landing at Oregon) brought him to Oregon and was a second-round pick in the NBA draft.
The willingness to stand out a little – be it occasionally wearing sunglasses for post-game Zoom calls or getting under an opponent’s skin – and let his passion flow on the floor is part of his success.
“It’s meant my whole career. I had to go through ups and downs to figure it out, but it helped me make coaches kind of see different,” said Brooks. “I’m not just any other player. I play with passion. I play with a lot of, you know, charisma and a lot of relentlessness and I always try to stand out differently because you know … there’s a lot of six-seven guys who are athletic and can put in the basket, so what is it going to distinguish you?
“So I try to just work on my game, try to play with so much passion, just leaving it all on the floor every game and it got me to college, got me into the NBA and now it’s just you know making me stand out more and more each and every game.”
But as Brooks works his way through his fourth season, he’s facing a different challenge. Almost exactly one year ago, he signed a three-year, $35-million extension and now Brooks is working on tamping down his trademark aggressiveness. After forcing people to take notice with his do-anything-relentlessness, he’s trying dial it back, make plays for others while improving his shot selection.
“It’s hard, especially in the NBA. There’s so many great players, and they can challenge you each and every game, my coaches challenge me to find that median, which is hard,” said Brooks. “It’s very, very, hard because you think every shot is going in, you think every shot is a good shot and you work on your shot every day and for me like I’ll work on my [stuff] every day. I try to perfect it to be one of the best two-way players in this league.”
It’s still a work in progress. Brooks made the all-rookie team in 2017-18 after starting all 82 games for the Grizzlies but was set back by injury in 2018-19. Last season he bounced back and posted career highs of 16 points and two made threes per game while shooting 36 per cent from deep.
But as he’s tried to fight his natural urge to either attack the rim or let it fly to incorporate more playmaking – he’s increased his assist rate by nearly half, from 10.5 per cent to 14.3 – his shot-making has dipped. Through 17 games, Brooks is shooting just 38.5 per cent from the floor and 30.1 per cent from three.
“I feel like it’s getting better,” he said. “I’m just developing a new role, not being just super aggressive, always going downhill, scorer, you know? I’m trying to mix it up: Play-make, guard the best player on the floor, keep my conditioning up and trying to fit into that role, just add another thing into my game. There’s the mental part, figuring out how to get my guys involved and score efficiently. It’s a work in progress, but I feel like it’s getting better each and every game.”
Brooks has his eyes on the summer as well and representing Canada internationally. He was one of the first of Canada’s NBA contingent to commit to playing last summer in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament and beyond, and nothing has changed a year later.
“We got so many guys in the league right now and guys that are up and coming,” he said. “So, you know [Canadian national team head coach and Raptors head coach] Nick Nurse has to find a way to put it all together. We got a lot of dogs and a lot of guys that are hungry and guys that want to make history, so I can’t wait, you know, to get on the floor with those guys, play, figure it out and win a gold medal.”