LeBron, Lakers respond to trash talk on the court

The Sporting Tribune's Mark Medina writes LeBron James and the Lakers responded in their own way to Dillon Brooks trolling James.

LOS ANGELES – Technically, LeBron James responded to Dillon Brooks.

And why shouldn’t he? Brooks disrespectfully described the Lakers’ 38-year star “as old.” The Memphis Grizzlies forward added he doesn’t respect anyone “until they come and give me 40” points. So three days after Brooks said those comments, James approached him during pre-game warmups.

They stared at each other face-to-face. James mostly spoke.  Brooks also talked. And during the dialogue, James either smiled or maintained a stoic expression.

Did the two clear the air? Did Brooks apologize? Did James make light of it all? Who knows. The television cameras may have caught the exchange. They did not catch the dialogue, though.

“It wasn’t private because everybody caught it,” James said. “Everybody saw it. There wasn’t anything private about it. It was very, very public. I like it that way.”

James also likes for his actions to speak for themselves. That offered a much louder message in the Lakers’ 111-101 win over the Grizzlies in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series on Saturday at Arena.

Other than that pre-game exchange, James seemed intent on not paying any attention to Brooks whatsoever.

Instead, James and the Lakers appeared motivated to extend their series lead to 2-1. They seemed inspired to play in the franchise’s first playoff game before a sell-out crowd of 18,997 fans for the first time since 2013 stemmed from seven missed playoff appearances, (2013-2019, 2022), winning an NBA title without any fans in a campus bubble (2020) and pandemic-related restrictions (2021). And they appeared intent on not validating Brooks in any way.

James somehow even maintained that approach when Brooks hit him in the groin while chasing a loose basketball with 11:43 left in the third quarter. After Brooks picked him up at full court, James dribbled the ball with his left hand behind his back. Brooks swiped with his left arm directly into James’ midsection. He fell to the ground immediately in pain.

Officials gave Brooks a flagrant foul 2, which resulted in an automatic ejection. A day after Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green received a flagrant foul 2 and automatic ejection for stepping on Sacramento Kings center Domantas Sabonis after he twisted his right ankle, the NBA suspended Green for a game  “based in part on Green’s history of unsportsmanlike acts.” Brooks led the NBA this season with 18 technicals, which also resulted in an automatic suspension.

Not only did James refuse to retaliate or address Brooks after the incident. James declined to share whether he believes Brooks should be suspended when the Lakers host Memphis for Game 4 on Monday (7 pm PT, TNT).

“I don’t know. I’m not part of the committee,” James said. “If he’s in the lineup or he’s out of the lineup, we have to prepare no matter what. I look forward to the challenges that Monday will bring.”

Not surprising that James approached Game 3 this way. Following Friday’s practice, James refused to respond to Brooks’ insults, acknowledge his name or even praise him following a question about his defense. James ended his four-minute interview, saying, “I’m not here for the bullshit.”

The sell-out crowd certainly was, though. They booed Brooks during pre-game warmups and even cheered whenever he missed. During lineup introductions, the crowd reserved the loudest jeers for Brooks. They then booed him any time he had the ball and cheered any time he missed a shot.

The Lakers stormed out to a 35-9 first-quarter lead, while Brooks went scoreless and missed his first four shots. Brooks eventually finished with only seven points while shooting 3-for-13 from the field in 19 minutes.

“They know what they have to do. I know what I have to do,” James said. “This is not my first rodeo. I had this throughout my career with certain individuals. It’s easy. It’s literally easy.”

James had plenty of opponents try to get under his skin during his 20-year NBA career.

Former Washington Wizards DeShawn Stevenson and former Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah often played physically with James.  Former Indiana Pacers forward Lance Stephenson once blew in James’ ear. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green also hit James in the groin in Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals after James walked over him.

It appeared James was about to relive some of those heated matchups before resisting. But why bother? James already has collected four NBA championships, four Finals MVP awards and four regular-season MVP trophies. James broke the NBA’s scoring record and ranks fourth on the league’s all-time assists record. James appeared in 19 NBA All-Star games and won two gold medals.

“My resume and what I’ve done for this league speaks for itself,” James said. “I don’t really get caught up with any comments like that. At the end of the day, my focus is to my teammates and us trying to figure out how to beat the Memphis Grizzlies.”

That mindset explains why James focused on other parts of Game 3.

He praised Anthony Davis for posting 31 points on 11-for-24 shooting and 17 rebounds after struggling in Game 2 (13 points on 4-for-14 shooting, nine rebounds). James lamented Grizzlies guard Ja Morant finishing with 45 points while shooting efficiently from the field (13-for-26), from 3-point range (6-for-10) and from the free-throw line (13-for-14). And James highlighted the importance of proper dieting and sleep since the Lakers will only have one day in between Game 4 in LA (Monday) and Game 5 in Memphis (Wednesday).

“No statement was made,” James said. “We just wanted to play well. We got a win.”

Mark Medina covers the NBA for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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