When a winner is crowned at the end of the 2017 NBA Finals, it’ll be the first time in three years a rookie head coach doesn’t take home the trophy. In 2015, it was Golden State Warriors’ head coach Steve Kerr and the following year, it was Cleveland Cavaliers‘ head coach Tyronn Lue. In 2017, one of the two rising stars in the NBA head coach club is going to take home their second ring as the Warriors and Cavaliers face off for the third consecutive year. Regardless of who wins, it’s not a bad way to start a career.
If you were to ask Lue though, I’m sure he’d prefer winning two championships in his first two seasons as opposed to going .500 in Finals’ appearances. Dating back to his playing days, Lue has always strived for greatness and built a career on hard work and tenacity. Whether it was coming up in a small town in Missouri, winning a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers or getting his coaching start with the Boston Celtics, Lue has always risen to the challenge. He can only hope now that his Cavs team rises to the stiff challenge posed by the intimidating 2016-17 Warriors.
Success early on isn’t something all that new to Lue, as he took a home a championship ring early in his playing career. Maintaining success is a different story though, and Lue can only hope his coaching career works out differently than is playing career.
Here is what you need to know about Lue.
1. Lue Comes From a Small Town in Missouri
Lue was born on May 3, 1977 in the small town of Mexico, Missouri (population of 11,664 in 2014), roughly 120 miles north west of St. Louis and 60 miles west of the mighty Mississippi River. Lue, along with his brother Gregory Miller and his sister Shakea Latoi Lue, were raised by his mother, Kim Miller and her family. His father, Ron Lue, spent time in prison for various drug charges.
After his first year of high school Lue was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Kansas City. He went on to attend Raytown Senior High School in neighboring Raytown, Missouri, becoming a stand-out on the team’s basketball team.
Other notable alumni of Raytown Senior High School include Gene Clark of the Byrds, David F. Duncan, who was a drug policy advisor for President Bill Clinton, and Aldon Smith, the troubled linebacker for the now Las Vegas Raiders.
2. Lue Was a Star at University of Nebraska Before Bouncing Around the NBA
After his time at Raytown Senior High School, Lue went on to play for the University of Nebraska. By the time he left school in 1998, Lue’s named was prominent in the school’s record books. He ranked 3rd all-time in assists (432,) 4th in 3 point shots made (145,) 5th in steals (154) and 7th in scoring with 1577 points.
Lue was drafted in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft, going 23rd to the Denver Nuggets, however he was quickly traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for guard Nick Van Exel.
“He was a terrific player,” said former Lakers general manager Jerry West, who made the deal for Lue. “Defensively, he was a little bulldog. I was impressed with the way he played and his leadership. He had a toughness about him and was really competitive.”
The first few years in the league were largely uneventful for Lue and he struggled to get playing time. Lue’s breakthrough came right before the 2001 NBA Playoffs started. Thanks to his quickness and the looming threat of the Lakers possibly facing Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers, Lue was a last minute addition to the team’s playoff roster. His play in the playoffs, the Finals in particular, helped the Lakers win their third consecutive title and Lue ink his first free agent deal, signing with the Washington Wizards the following summer.
Again though, Lue did not stay with a team that long and a year later he moved on to the Orlando Magic. The 2003-04 season was a nightmare for the Magic and they finished with the worst record in the league, going 21-61. Following the season Lue was on the move again, this time via trade to the Houston Rockets alongside Juwan Howard and Tracy McGrady. The Houston stint was short-lived. Halfway through the 2004-05 season, Lue was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, who would go on to finish the season with a record of 13-69. For the second year in a row Lue was a member of the team with the league’s worst record.
Lue’s last few years in the league were spent largely in transit, as he bounced from one team to the next. After the Hawks he went to the Sacramento Kings, then the Dallas Mavericks, then the Milwaukee Bucks and then finally, back to the Magic in February of the 2008-09 season. He would retire at the end of the season, having logged 554 games in 11 seasons.
3. Allen Iverson Stepping Over Him Wasn’t as Bad for Lue as You’d Think
Perhaps Lue’s biggest and most memorable moment during his playing career happened in Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. With 48 seconds left in overtime, Lue was closely guarding Iverson. Lue was staying with him until Iverson shook him for a half a second, stepped back and hit a dagger of a jumper. Immediately following the shot, Lue fell to the ground, Iverson stepped over him, looking down at Lue as he did. The moment would go down in NBA history as “The Step-over,” an image that stuck with both players long after their careers had ended.
Yet as with anything, pulling back on “The Step-over” adds some important context and clarity to the situation. For starters, the fact that Iverson was there pulled Lue out of obscurity and in Lue’s own words, saved his career. “If Milwaukee would have beat Philly (in the Eastern Conference Finals,) I wouldn’t have played,” Lue said. “So that could have possibly been my last year in the NBA. People don’t understand that.”
In the moment, and even today, as the image of “The Step-over” has lived on as a meme, it seemed as if Lue had fallen because of something Iverson did, a way in which he moved that caused Lue to lurch and then fall. Going back though, it was something seemingly much more harmless, and while it did have to do with something Iverson did, it wasn’t something he did intentionally.
“The funny part about it, people think like he crossed me over, I fell down and then he stepped,” Lue said. “I contested his shot. And I’m walking backwards, and I step on his foot and I fall. And he stepped over me. And they make a big deal out of it.”
What’s even funnier is that after that moment, Iverson was largely shut down by Lue. In the next four games, all won by the Lakers, Iverson was held to just 48 of 121 shooting.
4. Lue Was the League’s Highest Paid Assistant Coach Before Taking Over the Cavaliers
After retiring from the NBA in the summer of 2009, Lue was hired by the Boston Celtics that October. He was named Director of Basketball Development and would later go on to become an assistant coach for head coach Doc Rivers from 2010 to 2012. Lue then followed Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers in July of 2013 where his first job was coaching the Clippers’ summer league team in Las Vegas.
Much like his playing career, Lue wasn’t with the Clippers for very long. The following summer Lue’s name was being floated as a candidate for the head coaching job with the Cavaliers. Despite the job going to David Blatt, Lue was still headed east, as he signed on to become the team’s associate head coach. By signing a contract worth $6.5 million over 4 years, Lue became the highest paid assistant coach in the league.
Lue wouldn’t be an assistant for very long. In January of 2016 Blatt was abruptly fired. Lue was elevated to head coach. Out of respect to Blatt Lue didn’t immediately sign a new contract. He wouldn’t do so until July 2016, when he signed a 5 year extension worth $35 million.
Under Lue, the Cavaliers went 27-14 and finished with a record of 57-25, finishing 1st in the Eastern Conference. As the playoffs marched on, Lue would become the first coach in NBA history to win his first ten postseason games and the second rookie head coach in as many years to win the NBA Championship. Lue was the 14th person to win a NBA Championship as both a player and a coach.
The Cavaliers went 51-31 in 2016-17, finishing in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference behind one of Lue’s old teams, the Celtics. They beat the Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors and the Celtics on their way to the NBA Finals.
5. Lue Has a Street Named After Him in Mexico, Missouri
A few weeks after losing to the Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals Lue was honored back in his hometown. In August Walnut Street in Mexico was renamed Tyronn Lue Boulevard. Friends and relatives wondered why Lue hadn’t chosen a more prominent street to be renamed after him, but Lue had personal reasons for picking Walnut Street.
“This means a lot to me,” Lue said in an interview prior to the ceremony. “This is where it all started. It is a great feeling to be surrounded by the people who have supported me over the years.“
At the re-naming ceremony, Mexico’s former mayor Greg Miller talked about all the good work Lue had done for the community, which included paying for the town’s Fourth of July fireworks display and providing clothing for the town’s children.