On their way to the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers ran into the Memphis Grizzlies who gave them a fight for six games in the first round of the playoffs.
That series was highlighted by several confrontations between LeBron James and then-Grizzlies swingman Dillon Brooks, now of the Houston Rockets. Brooks “poked the bear” by saying James was “old” and that he didn’t respect anyone unless they scored 40 points against him.
He embraced playing the villain.
“I think that’s why they … created this villain role,” Brooks said via SPORTSNET on August 24. “I play aggressive, I play physical, and then I do a little trash talking as well.”
And though his words came back to bite him, he stands by them.
“I feel like I always had [James],” Brooks said. “I feel like that series was thrown upon me because of the words that I say. But I’ve been saying things all year and we won 50 games.
Brooks, an All-Defensive Team selection last season, guarded James for just under 34 minutes in the postseason across six contests, per NBA.com.
James scored 21 points in those minutes, his fourth-highest mark of the postseason, though he only shot 47.4% from the field overall and 33.3% from beyond the arc. The efficiency numbers were among his worst of the postseason.
“Maybe sometimes I gotta watch what I say,” Brooks said. “I gotta use it strategically.”
LeBron James, Lakers Got Last Laugh
James initially said he wasn’t “here for the b*******,” per Jovan Buha and Andrew DeWitt of The Athletic on April 21. Instead, James responded to Brooks’ constant badgering in Game 2 of their series with a 25-point outing in Game 3, a 20-point, 20-rebound effort in Game 4, and the Lakers beat the Grizzlies by 40 points in the deciding Game 6.
He also sent a tweet after the Lakers eliminated the Grizzlies from the postseason.
Brooks, 27, signed a four-year, $86 million contract with Houston in free agency this summer.
Dillon Brooks Compares On-Court Edge to Kobe Bryant
Brooks talked about the edge that he plays with and how it is his way of tuning out any distractions on the floor. He likened it to the edge that the late former Lakers great, Kobe Bryant, played with during his career.
“I think it’s just a persona,” Brooks said. “When I get on the court, I just go into that persona. It’s kind of like what Kobe did in going through his hardships, with creating the Black Mamba. “Just trying to kind of distract yourself away from all the noise, and just putting it all into the game itself or into a persona.”
Many athletes have adopted the “Mamba Mentality” so Brooks’ comments are not unique in that sense. But Bryant was clear the mindset was not about bravado.
For the five-time champion, Bryant, it was about obsessing over greatness.
“If you want to be great in a particular area, you have to obsess over it,” Bryant said in “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play”, his autobiography from 2018. “A lot of people say they want to be great, but they’re not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve greatness.”