Tyronn Lue’s rise from a role player, whose most notable moment came when a star stepped over him, to the coach of the World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers has all the makings of a heartfelt Disney sports movie. You can try to argue that anyone could win a title with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but if that was the case, David Blatt would still have a job. Hell, Dan Gilbert would probably still be signing Mike Brown’s paychecks in comic sans. But as Blatt proved, it’s a tough job keeping the self-proclaimed King in check on the court, and it’s something that Lue has done with aplomb.
Kurt Streeter pulled back the curtain on Lue’s life in a new must-read feature for ESPN the Magazine, and someone at Disney seriously needs to get a script ready. Lue’s rise from a rough childhood in Mexico, Missouri to being congratulated by President Obama for the Cavs overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals is truly astounding, but what makes it all better is how his old friends and family members talk about how grounded and humbled Lue has remained, despite becoming one of the highest paid coaches in the NBA.
In fact, as Streeter details, it was the small town, “us against the world” mentality that helped Lue finally connect with his one-of-a-kind superstar.
There’s something different about Lue, James says: “He is not coming from an ‘I’m doing this for me’ standpoint. He’s doing it from an ‘I’m doing this for us. I’m going to tell you the truth no matter what.’ I respect that.” In a strange tie that binds, LeBron’s business manager and longtime friend, Maverick Carter, has family in Mexico, Missouri. Maverick and Ty’s good friend Doodles Carter are cousins. James sees parallels to his own path out of Akron in Lue’s road from Mexico to the NBA. “Take a look at his background, man,” he says. “One way in, one way out. Population close to nothing. So he has always been counted out. I relate to him because I was one of those guys who was counted out too. Supposed to be a statistic, no way I was supposed to be in this position.”
All of the drama and the struggle of getting the best from his players is funny to us now, since the Cavs are sporting those massive rings, but it’s even funnier because Lue never wanted the job. At least not the way he got it. He thought it was “f*cked up” how Blatt was fired, and he questioned himself in the beginning because he couldn’t get his players to stop worrying about their brands.
Under Blatt, James had a habit of talking directly to the team during timeouts, but Lue shut that down, reportedly at one point saying, “Shut the f— up, I got this.”
Seriously, Disney, it writes itself.