Like many NBA figures over the past two decades, former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown has seen firsthand the impact LeBron James can have when the superstar speaks his mind.
Now head coach of the Sacramento Kings, Brown recalled an exchange involving James from early in the 2005-06 season, the coach’s first leading Cleveland. The Cavs’ pick-and-roll defense was failing, and the players were having a hard time picking up his system.
“So I called timeout and I went straight to the huddle and I just started going off, saying ‘OK, what the hell do you guys want to do?’” Brown told The Athletic. “Every time we try to defend the pick-and-roll, we’re getting diced apart. You want to switch? You want to trap?’ We were a show team. Some people might call it hedge, so I said, ‘What do you want to do? I’ll do whatever you guys want to do just as long as…”
James then cut off the instruction and forcefully stated his opinion.
“I didn’t even get a chance to finish, but Bron stepped in and said, ‘No, no, no.’ — excuse my French — but he says, ‘No f— that,” Brown recalled. “‘We’re a show team. That’s what we’re gonna do. You do this. You do that.’ And as he’s saying this, I just backed out of the huddle. From there, we took off. I mean, we were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA the next I don’t know how many years. And in my opinion, it’s because the tone was set — maybe initially by me — but the tone was solidified by LeBron.”
It was a big moment for a first-time NBA head coach, and it led to a good run of success. Brown lasted five seasons in his first stint with the Cavs that started off with back-to-back 50-win seasons and a trip to the 2007 NBA Finals, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
Despite later seasons of 66 wins and 61 wins, the Cavaliers could not get back to the NBA Finals under Brown, and he was fired following the 2009-10 season. He returned as head coach for the 2013-14 campaign and was let go again after the Cavs did not make the playoffs.
James, of course, left and then came back to Cleveland and helped the Cavaliers win their first NBA championship in 2016. The 38-year-old is now with the Los Angles Lakers and just started his 21st NBA season.
Brown is in his second season with the Kings, who are considered to be one of the more exciting up-and-coming teams in the league. There is a chance they could wind up facing James and the Lakers at some point in the 2023 Western Conference Playoffs with a lot on the line.
The Cavaliers, now coached by J.B. Bickerstaff, also have high expectations for the 2023-24 NBA season. With a young core of Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen and newcomers Max Strus and Georges Niang, they are looking for back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since four straight trips to the NBA Finals that ended in 2018.
Bickerstaff started his fourth full season as Cavs coach with a 114-113 win against the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. They face Brown and the Kings on Nov. 13 and Feb. 5 this season.