MEMPHIS — LeBron James is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, four-time MVP, four-time champion and 19-time All-Star.
For Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks, LeBron is “old.”
“I punch the bears — I don’t respect anybody until they come and give me 40 (points),” Brooks said.
The context for this is that James and Brooks started attacking each other with 8:06 left in the third quarter of the Grizzlies’ 103-93 win over the Lakers in Game 2 of this Western Conference playoff series. The Lakers trailed by at least one point at 20, but James started to bring them back, Brooks’ fourth. When Brooks was whistled for the foul, according to Brooks, LeBron told him: “You’re dumb for making that foul.”
When Brooks was asked about the exchange later after the game, he said things about James that no one in the NBA has said in his illustrious career, certainly not in one sitting.
“I don’t care — he’s old,” Brooks said. “I expected him to (talk trash), Game 4, Game 5.”
During his eight-minute postgame interview, in no particular order, Brooks, wearing dark sunglasses, jeans and a shirtless vest, had the following to say about James, the scrappy defender and known problem starter:
“He’s not at the same level he was when he was in Cleveland and winning the championship in Miami. I’d like to see that. I mean, (protecting him) would have been a tough, tough task.
“He’s a special player. … These special players, they want to play in space, they want to not get touched … But when you get to the playoffs, bumps are allowed and things like that, it wears on him.
“Wear him through a seven-game series and see if he can pick it up — see if he wants to play in a one-on-one battle, or if he needs to be sidelined.”
The 38-year-old James, who is playing on an injured leg that he said has been recommended for surgery, was not asked about Brooks during his postgame interview.
James scored 28 points on 12-of-23 shooting, but was just 1-of-8 from 3-point range. He scored 21 on 8-for-16 shooting in the Lakers’ Game 1 win.
Brooks was the Grizzlies’ primary defender in James and was trying to improve the 6-8, 260-pound scoring machine. “It’s going well,” Brooks said. I try to tire him out, with little bumps here and there without getting dirty.
As for the spat between them, Brooks replied to James, “Finally you want to talk.”
“Then we started having a conversation,” Brooks continued. “I let him know you can’t take me alone. You don’t. You watch the film. Up until that moment he didn’t take me alone. And then when he came out he was tired. So I did my job.
Brooks was given a chance to clarify one of his statements — that he “doesn’t respect” James — and said, “Obviously I have some respect. He’s a legend. He’s LeBron James. But you know, when I’m on that floor, you’re just another player to me. You I don’t care who it is. You’re only 6-8, 270 pounds. And you’re a basketball player.
Brooks admitted, “I’m making a name for myself. So you know, I can’t be looking at these guys like, ‘He’s LeBron James.’
During the regular season Brooks was assessed 18 technicals, meaning two one-game suspensions, and he got into a fight with Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell. He said he’s been booed during Grizzlies games in Los Angeles this season, so he’s not worried about the reaction his comments are sure to cause.
He might want to think about that when it comes to how LeBron reacts. Yes, he’s old, but James has famously turned even the smallest of things into historic revenge. When Klay Thompson told LeBron after Game 4 of the 2016 Finals that the NBA was a “man’s league,” James responded with 41-point games and a triple-double in Game 7. 3-1 loss in finals history.
“I got him today,” Brooks said. “I made him talk to me. So if he keeps talking we’ll see in Game 3, I’m all for it,” he said.
(Photo: Pietre Thomas / USA Today)