Dillon Brooks decided to “poke the bear” of LeBron James during the Grizzlies first-round playoff matchup with the Lakers last season. Brooks called LeBron “old,” said he doesn’t respect anyone who doesn’t drop 40 on him, got ejected for hitting LeBron in the “groin,” and generally tied to get in the head of a guy in the GOAT conversation.
It went about as well as expected. LeBron averaged 22.2 points and 11.2 rebounds a game in the series, and specifically shot 61.1% when guarded by Brooks (according to NBA.com tracking). LeBron and the Lakers advanced past the Grizzlies in six games.
Except, that’s not exactly how Brooks remembers it. Here is what he told Arash Madani of Sportsnet in an interview this week.
“I feel like I always had him. I feel like that series was thrown upon me cause of the words that I say, but I’ve been saying things all year and we won 50 games.”
Brooks is right about one thing, the Grizzlies’ loss to the Lakers was not all on him. Steven Adams was out injured and they could have used his physicality. More than that, this was a Memphis team still dealing with the aftermath of the first gun-related suspension of Ja Morant, and trying to find a way to balance their brash, in-your-face attitude with the discipline to do the little things needed to win in the playoffs.
After the season, the Grizzlies decided to move on from Brooks for basketball, cultural and financial reasons. Memphis brought in Marcus Smart — a guy with a ring and a jumper that needs to be respected — while Brooks signed for four years, $86 million with the Rockets.
Brooks is in Jakarta, Indonesia, with the rest of a stacked Canadian national team ready to start World Cup play in a tough group with France, Latvia (playing without Kristaps Porzingis due to a foot issue) and Lebanon. Canada is one of the betting favorites and could medal in the World Cup (and earn an invite to the Paris Olympics), but they have not lived up to that potential in tune-up games.