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Dillon Brooks Got In The Wrong Head When He Taunted LeBron James

Don Yaeger

04/25/23 | Athletes / Sports


Dillon Brooks Got In The Wrong Head When He Taunted LeBron James

Memphis Grizzlies player Dillon Brooks wants badly to be a bad man but doesn’t realize that before you can be bad, you have to be very, very good—otherwise, you risk humiliating yourself. In the 2022-2023 NBA Playoffs now underway, Brooks has shown just how true this maxim can be by taking it upon himself to attempt getting inside the mind of one of the most dominant players on the planet: Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, his opponent in the series Los Angeles now leads 3-1.

This has created a massive mismatch in the trash-talking department. While James recently became the most prolific scorer in NBA history and is a four-time champion and MVP, Brooks leads the league in technical fouls and is tied for the most game ejections. This didn’t stop the 27-year-old Brooks from calling 38-year-old James “old” after the Grizzlies beat the Lakers in the second game of the series. Problem was, Brooks wasn’t good enough to try and be bad. Just before game three, James walked over to Brooks, said a few words, gave him a death stare and then led the Lakers to a victory despite being the victim of one of Brooks’ league-leading technical fouls, a literal low blow to James’ groin that earned Brooks an ejection.

Following the Lakers’ victory over the Grizzlies, James took the high road and said his focus had always been, and would remain, on how to beat the Grizzlies rather than how to beat Brooks. But the home crowd in the Crypto.com Arena (and perceptive T.V. viewers) couldn’t help noticing that the Lakers organization took up the war-of-the-words for James by posting his respective career achievements alongside Brooks on the jumbotron, along with this coup de grace directed at Brooks: “You’re just not that guy.”


That’s the thing about trash talking: while it has its place in competitive environments, there is nothing worse than not being able to back it up. Too often we think we’re getting in people’s head, but we’re getting in the wrong head. How do you know when you’re in wrong head? Well, first the chances are good that the “head” enabling James to break Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s seemingly unbreakable NBA scoring record is not likely to be easily undermined. Second, it’s usually counterproductive to trash talk someone who is about to return to defend his “house,” a fortress where you won’t have one person but upwards of 19,000 people rooting against you.

A few years back, this space looked at trash-talking using golf as the sports example. That blog noted a study done by the University of Hull’s Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences on the four requirements of mental toughness: controlling your actions and circumstances, fully committing to your life and work, welcoming rather than avoiding challenges and having confidence in your ability to persevere.

This comprised the “Four C’s” of mental toughness, which is the foundation for sustained success in any career. For example, it’s mental toughness that picks us up after a setback rather than allow us to shrink from the next challenge. It’s mental toughness that disciplines us to focus on what we can control versus what we cannot. Mental toughness is also critical to successful trash-talking. If you don’t have the Four C’s working for you in a deep way, you’re setting yourself up for a long haul. But if do have them, well, that’s the stuff of which legends are made!

In 1986, in a spectacular convergence of the Four C’s, one of the great trash-talkers in NBA history, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, famously showed up late to the locker room where the rest of the competitors in the first ever three-point competition nervously awaited their turns to take the floor. Bird cast a withering glance over the group, said nothing for a while, and then asked, “Man, who’s comin’ in second?”

Then he went out and won the contest—all without removing his warm-up jacket, showing his badness in a way that is still the gold standard in basketball today.

Bird could succeed in this way, in part, because he had proven himself with two NBA championships and a reputation as one of the league’s best players. He walked the talk. But in a much deeper way, he succeeded because he lived his life in accordance with the Four C’s. He knew who he was. He knew what he could or could not do when the chips were down. He knew he had sunk three-pointers with Magic Johnson’s hand in his face, so shooting unguarded would be a walk in the park.

He knew nobody else in that locker room shared his confidence.

As for James, he’s “old” alright. Old enough to remember the younger version of himself who locked eyes with Michael Jordan sitting in the stands as James soared in for a breakaway dunk against Charlotte. Old enough to know who he measures himself against on the basketball court. And old enough to show that old dogs, or “bears” as Brooks called him, can learn new tricks by recording his first-ever 20-20 game. On Monday night, James finished with 22 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and just one turnover. Darn near perfect and enough to give Los Angeles a 3-1 lead in the series. To win the game, James scored on…Brooks, who likely will have that moment stuck in his head for awhile.

“I’ve done some pretty cool things in my career,” James, who is that guy, said after the game. “I’ve never had 20 and 20 before. So, that’s pretty cool, I guess.”

There’s no guessing about it.