Tyronn Lue acknowledged making an unusual request in the locker room after a Game 5 victory at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., kept the Cleveland Cavaliers alive in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Lue, who had been elevated to head coach midseason after David Blatt was fired, admitted that finding ways to motivate NBA players — like Cleveland’s star trio of LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — can be challenging.
During a celebration in his honor on Saturday in his hometown of Mexico, Mo., Lue offered a peek into how he spurred the Cavaliers to the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history, becoming the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the title.
“I told everybody in the locker room — the owners, the trainers, the players, the physical therapists — to give me $100,” Lue said.
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All 54 members of the team’s traveling party ponied up the cash despite some head-scratching and quizzical looks. Lue wrapped that $5,400 in tape and stashed it in the visiting coach’s locker room.
“We’re going home for Game 6 and we’re going to win, then we’re going to come back for Game 7 and get our money and get our trophy,” Lue said.
The Cavs, of course, won Game 6 in Cleveland and outlasted the Warriors 93-89 on June 19 for the franchise’s first NBA championship and the city’s first pro sports crown in 52 years.
But before things got cranked up inside the victorious locker room in Oakland, James pumped the breaks on the party.
“Hold up,” James said, glaring at Lue and commanding the attention of the room. “Before we pop the champagne, where’s my $100 at?”
Lue remembers thinking, “This guy makes $200 million a year and he’s worried about $100, so I go into the office, climb up on top of the desk, move the ceiling (tile), get it out, unwrap it and passed out everybody’s $100 before we had a chance to pop the champagne.”
A crowd of roughly 3,000 laughed often Saturday inside Mexico High’s gym, where his hometown repaid a national television shout-out from Lue after the NBA Finals win with Tyronn Lue’s Home Court Shout Out celebration.
Rain forced the festivities — which originally were scheduled for Garfield Park, the blacktop where Lue learned the game — inside, but it didn’t dampen spirits.
Lue brought the Larry O’Brien Trophy to the town of 11,543, about 40 miles northeast of Columbia, which embraced its conquering native son by giving him a key to the city along with an honorary diploma and varsity basketball letter.
Following the hour-long presentation, Lue spent nearly three hours signing autographs and taking pictures with any and every fan who wanted his signature or a selfie with the Cavs’ hard-won spoils.
“Basketball is what I do, but that’s not who I am,” Lue said. “I’m a Mexico native, and I’m always going to support Mexico. This is where I’m from and where I was raised. Having the opportunity to let people know where I’m from and giving this city credit for what they’ve raised just meant a lot to me.”
That’s why not once, but twice, Lue dropped Mexico references into postgame remarks with ABC sideline reporter Doris Burke after the Game 7 win.
Lue, of course, left Mexico before his sophomore season and spent three years at Raytown High, where he graduated in 1995.
“I knew how to make (Tyronn) a gentleman, but I didn’t know how to raise a boy to a man,” said Lue’s mother, Kim Lue, who traveled back to Mexico from Houston for the ceremony. “My brother (Kevin Graves) was a great mentor, so it was amazing and from then on he kept going higher and higher. But (Raytown) gave him opportunities and chances to be Tyronn, and he also grew and matured a lot.”
Lue may not have mentioned Raytown on national television, but he hasn’t forgotten the pivotal role Kansas City played in his rise from small-town kid to NBA kingmaker.
“(Mexico) raised me, but, to get to where I wanted to get to, as far as exposure, I had to move to Kansas City,” Lue said. “(Raytown) accepted me with open arms. Coach (Mark) Scanlon was there and my uncle Kevin with his wife, Sandy, at the time — they raised me and did a great job. It was a process, and it was a step that I had to take to get to where I wanted to get to today.”
Where Lue’s at is on top of the world, and Raytown has every right to be proud of its role in that ascendance.
“Absolutely, and they should,” Graves said. “Ya’ll better.”
Lue’s playing career included two NBA titles with the Lakers alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and a two-year stint playing alongside Michael Jordan with the Wizards during an 11-year career.
Lue made a seamless transition into the coaching ranks, learning from Doc Rivers before joining the Cavs as the NBA’s highest-paid assistant prior to the 2014-15 season.
That put him in position to become one of 14 people to win an NBA title as a player and head coach.
“I always tell my friends and family now, I hate to dream, so when I’m dreaming at night I wake up, because a dream could make my life worse,” Lue said. “I’ve had the best life I could possibly imagine.”
Standing behind the stage as the Cavs were being presented with the Larry O’Brien Trophy, assistant coach Larry Drew, a Wyandotte High grad, leaned over to Lue.
“You’ve come a long way from Mexico,” Drew said.
Lue smiled and replied, “You’ve come a long way from Kansas City, Kansas.”
“We’ve talked about our upbringing and how it was, how tough it was and what we had to go through and endure,” Drew said. “Now look at us. Here we are, the world champs. That’s something that we’ll always have.”