Dillon Brooks hasn’t exactly endeared himself to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers over the past few seasons. Last season, he infamously said before the playoffs that he wanted to play against James. He claimed that he to “poke bears” and that he doesn’t respect anyone “until they come and give me 40.” James hasn’t quite done that, but he’s embarrassed Brooks in just about every other fashion ever since.
James himself has not scored 40 points against Brooks, for example, but his Lakers beat Brooks’ Grizzlies by exactly 40 points in their decisive, series-clinching Game 6 win in their series last season. Sunday night, James came just shy of 40 points, instead scoring 37 in a one-point win over Brooks and the Rockets.
Brooks was so bad against the Lakers in the playoffs last season that Memphis chose not to try to re-sign him as a free agent. He is playing well in Houston, and the Rockets beat the Lakers earlier in the season, but James has a definite edge in their individual rivalry at the moment.
So why does Brooks continue to poke the James bear? Lakers forward Rui Hachimura has a theory. “He wants to be a part of his legacy, I guess,” Hachimura said after Sunday’s win. It’s not a crazy theory. When Brooks played for the Grizzlies, he infamously said they “building our dynasty,” which suggests he does give some thought to both his own place in history and his team’s.
Hachimura doesn’t think Brooks has quite the same effect on James. “For LeBron, it’s nothing,” Hachimura said. “It’s actually good for him, it gives him motivation.”
In a one-point game like Sunday’s, any extra bit of motivation can make all of the difference. James did just enough to beat Brooks on Sunday. Would he have been able to summon such a performance against a less controversial opponent? Probably, but hey, it never hurts to have a little extra bulletin board material.