Everyone loves a good villain in basketball. Trae Young against the Knicks in 2021 was a viral sensation as Young was seen taunting the Madison Square Garden repeatedly, and even as a Knicks fan, I loved the intensity it brought to the series. Patrick Beverley has become a notable villain throughout the league, the type of player you hate to play against but love to have on your team. There are other villains like Draymond Green who receive more scrutiny for their acts. So, what happens when you spread these traits throughout an entire team? The Memphis Grizzlies.
Last season, on Golden State’s run to a championship, they went up against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round, a team at the time that had full support from NBA fandom, excited to see a young, entertaining, athletic team give the multiple-time champs a run for their money. This series sparked one of the best rivalries in the game today when, in Game Two, Grizzlies small forward Dillon Brooks fractured Golden State shooting guard Gary Payton II’s arm on an attempted block. Warriors coach Steve Kerr would call out Brooks after the game, claiming, “There’s a code players follow. You never put a guy’s season or career in jeopardy by taking someone out in mid-air and clubbing him across the head.” Brooks would chirp back, saying, “I don’t even really know what that means. It’s the playoffs… every play counts. So, I don’t know what that means.”
The “code” became the catalyst for animosity between the two teams when in Game 3 Jordan Poole injured Ja Morant’s knee when he pulled on it going after a loose ball prompting Morant to tweet out “broke the code.”
This season, we saw an incredible Christmas Day game with just as much hostility as the Warriors would win 123-109, despite having no Stephen Curry or Andrew Wiggins, and trash talk flying for all 48 minutes. This game would lead to ongoing feud between Dillon Brooks and Draymond Green as they would go back and forth for months exchanging verbal blows about the caliber of player the other is.
But now, Memphis has found a new target: their first-round matchup, the Los Angeles Lakers. Dillon Brooks is once again at the forefront of the conflict, continuing to give extremely controversial statements to the media and taunting in game. Brooks’ feud with Green was apparently just the tip of the iceberg as he has been adamantly targeting who many considered the best player of the past two decades, Lebron James.
After James alongside Rui Hachimuira and Austin Reaves led Los Angeles to a 128-112 Game One victory, Brooks has been looking to spark the fire underneath his teammates. Ja Morant would miss Game Two after aggravating a hand injury, which on paper would make the path to a two-and-oh series lead almost absolute for the Lakers. This was not the only case of superstars getting injured and a team banding together as Milwaukee lost Giannis Antetokounmpo in Game One of their series against the Heat only to come out in Game Two and dominate.
In Game Two, Brooks decided to take James head-on guarding him throughout the entirety of the game, screaming, clapping and engaging in nefarious antics in attempts to get under the future Hall of Famers skin. Lebron would put up better numbers than he did in Game One, but Xavier Tillman would drop 22 points and lead Memphis to an improbable victory.
After the game, Brooks would continue to name drop Lebron in his post-game interviews, sighting that Lebron is “old” and “not Cleveland or Miami Bron anymore,” ending with a direct challenge to the King in which he stated, “I poke bears, I don’t respect no one until they come and give me 40.” An absurd statement from Brooks since, in the first two games, James scored 26 of his 49 points with Brooks on the defensive side, shooting 61% against him. When approached about the incident, James refused to answer questions about the incident, responding that he’s “not here for the bulls—” before promptly concluding the interview. For a Grizzlies team that has received criticism in the past for being “all bark and no bite,” they better hope that this bear doesn’t bite back in Game Three.
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