CLEVELAND -- In Tyronn Lue's first half season as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015-16, he coached the Eastern Conference All-Stars despite having commanded the Cavs for only 11 games at that point; he set a rookie coaching record by starting off the playoffs 10-0; and he helped guide Cleveland back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals to win it all.
What can he possibly do for an encore? He touched on that and more with ESPN's NBA Lockdown podcast, published this week. The following is an edited transcript from that conversation.
Dave McMenamin: People seem to be impressed by the abode of Ty Lue. What can you tell me about this "Laker Room" that you have?
Tyronn Lue: Well, I've been collecting jerseys and shoes my whole career. And I had a chance to get all the Laker greats, the jerseys you see hanging up in the Staples Center, I have most of those in the "Laker Room." So, just having that, because that was the first place I went, the Lakers mean so much to me. Jerry West drafted me and giving me my opportunity, so I'm always going to be a Laker at heart and to have those guys in that room is just big and it's special to me. Even though I didn't make the cut.
DM: This was the tip of the iceberg though. You have the Laker Room, but really, you have a vast memorabilia collection.
DM: And it started, what, your rookie year? When did you start collecting it?
TL: My second year. [It was] Brian Shaw who turned me on to doing it. He said you want to remember these moments and collect memorabilia and it's just cool to have. So he really turned me on to getting the shoes autographed and later I just graduated to getting jerseys. But Brian Shaw was the one that really told me to start doing that and how cool it is. And it's fantastic.
DM: The way it actually worked was, so, during a game or maybe before a game or at halftime you'd go up to an opponent and be like, "Hey, man, after the game could a locker room attendant grab your shoes from you?" Something like that?
TL: Yeah. And back then it was really easy. But I think now with all the jerseys and all the jersey sales and all that sort of stuff, it's different. But back then with the shoes, it wasn't a problem at all. And if they couldn't do it then, then they'll send them to you or you'll talk to your equipment guy, he'll call the other equipment guy and they'll send them out. So, every guy I asked, they always sign them for me.
DM: But no one ever asked for the Tyronn Lue jersey back?
TL: Nah, nah. No. Nobody ever asked for that.
TL: Yeah. Yeah. I played against Olajuwon.
DM: When he was with, what, Toronto?
TL: When he was with Houston. I was there when Shaq [O'Neal] and [Charles] Barkley got into that fight. Makes me really old, don't it?
DM: And the shoes, you display them as well?
TL: In my office I have Kobe's shoes, Jordan's shoes, Shaq's shoes and I think the rest of them are put in my storage.
DM: As a coach, do you hold onto items the same way you did as a player?
TL: Not really. We went to the White House and when President Obama said my name and said Mexico, Missouri, I have a DVD copy of that that I keep in my safety deposit box, along with the 81-point game that Kobe had. Things like that I try to save.
DM: Game 7 of the NBA Finals, do you have that hat somewhere, do you have the championship T-shirt?
DM: Anything you held on from that?
TL: Just my suit. I have my suit that I'll never wear again and that was from Game 7.
DM: So it's kind of like a woman holding onto her wedding dress or something like that. It's in the back of the closet?
TL: It's crazy because when Doc won a championship in 2008, Paul Pierce dunked that Gatorade on him and they sold Doc's suit in an auction and made a lot of money. Made a lot of money.
DM: So that's a back-up plan moving forward?
TL: No, no, no. Just, it was a special moment. And a special moment for Cleveland, for the state of Ohio and that's what you do it for. You do it for the fans and they're so appreciative. Every time I walk down the street and see people, they're just so happy about what happened last year and still very supportive of this year. And it was just a great moment, so you never want to forget those moments.
DM: Was there anything about how epic that first half season was for you as head coach, followed by the championship that makes it hard to live up to? I mean, you could almost coach the next 50 years and not experience that.
TL: Yeah, I should've retired. I should've retired. I should've retired off that. But, it was just crazy. A lot of ups and downs through last season and just all the scrutiny that surrounds this team, especially with LeBron [James]. Then Coach [David] Blatt being fired midway through the season, who did a great job. There was just so, so much that went along and went into that season. And it was tough. It was tough on me. But at the end of the day, it was worth it.
DM: You mentioned Coach Blatt, and I know last year during the time from the point you took over through the championship you guys had communication. Do you guys have much of a relationship these days?
TL: I talked to him a couple times this season. I think he's in the Final Four over there [in Turkey] right now. Phil [Handy] talked to him the other day and he told him to tell me hello. But I'm very supportive of Coach Blatt, he's very supportive of me. He gave me my opportunity to come here and it was good. It's just sad the way it ended, the way it happened and the circumstances, but he understood that I have his back and we're still cool. So, that's the most important thing to me.
DM: LeBron is obviously strong-willed. Has his will affected the way you have to change your demeanor? Like, you're a somewhat laid-back guy in normal circumstances. But when you are in the trenches with him, so to speak, does he change the way you interact?
TL: No. I know how to push his buttons and I know how to get to him to get him mad and that's a good thing. But I've always learned throughout my years in the NBA, just being poised on the sideline. Not going crazy every possession -- on the officials, on your players. When you get to the timeouts in the fourth quarter, late-game situations, everyone is poised. Like, no one is all over the place. Everyone is locked in and you can execute better.
As far as being on the officials every five minutes, it's just not good for the game. The officials don't like it, you embarrass them, so it's just not good. Now, every now and then they might make a bad call, but officiating is hard. And I tried it a couple years in Sarasota [Florida], when I was hurt or waiting on my contract. I tried to ref the games and it's tough. It's right now, spur of the moment and it's tough. It's bang-bang.
DM: When you did that was it because you were testing to see if you could be a Haywoode Workman?
TL: Actually it was because some of the guys would mess the game up. Cuttino Mobley would call a foul on every possession so I said, you know what, I'm going to ref the game so we can just have some clarity and [consistency].
DM: Do you enjoy the press conferences in the playoffs? It's theater. The entire league is watching. You have someone like Fizdale in Memphis: "Take that for data!" And then there's T-shirts and it's a rallying cry. You had one unintentionally this year talking about Applebee's and wings fried hard with sauce on the side. Do you feel like that's a performance at all?
TL: Um. Not for me. They asked me what I did. So I said I went to Applebee's with my cousin. I didn't know it was going to be a big, ol' deal.
DM: But your delivery was strong. You said: "Wings. Fried hard. Sauce on the side."
TL: Well, they said what'd you eat? So I said, yeah, that's my go-to with the wings. But I don't like the media attention. That's why this job is just so tough. You're out in front all the time.
DM: As a player, even though you call yourself middle of the road, you would gloat. Especially in the summer time, you got to puff your chest out when you make a game-winning shot for instance. What's the feeling like when a late after-timeout play, baseline out of bounds, worked against Indiana?
TL: Kyrie [Irving] got the layup? I mean, that's gratifying. I don't know. You constantly work on these plays and they either work or they don't. And I just try to put our players in the best position to be successful and that's all you can ask. And, does it work all the time? No. But when it does, it looks great.
But they have to make the play and that's what people don't understand. You can work on this stuff every single day, kind of like the San Antonio game. We drew up the play we go over every day in practice and LeBron throws the ball out of bounds, Kyrie doesn't get to the corner, Tristan [Thompson] doesn't set the pick. So, if it doesn't work, it looks bad. But you work on your execution every single day.
You work to make sure that in the game everybody knows where they're supposed to be at and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But if you put them in a position to be successful, that's all you can ask for.
DM: Did you ever have any non-basketball jobs growing up?
TL: I worked at McDonald's for three weeks, I think. I was trying to get a paycheck to go from Kansas City back home to Mexico for the summer. So, what's the pay period where they hold the money the first (couple weeks)?
DM: Where they have to collect the government taxes and stuff?
TL: Right. So they held the first one and then I got my next check and I took it and I quit and I went to Mexico for the summer on a Greyhound.
DM: You could play the Warriors in the Finals again. Both teams are alive in the playoffs still, that's the only reason I'm saying it. And you said in a recent interview with Mike & Mike, that they are your guys' rivals.
TL: Yeah, I mean, if we go to the Finals again, if we're fortunate enough to make it and they're fortunate enough to make it, three years in a row? Both teams won one? I mean, that's got to be a rivalry, right? I mean, for the same teams to play three years in a row and right now both teams are split, the third go-round, third time in a row, them adding [Kevin] Durant, I mean, it probably would be one of the biggest Finals ever. And I consider it a rivalry and I respect those guys.
I talked to Steve Kerr a couple days ago. I called and checked on him and talked to him so he's in good spirits. So, you compete, but I like all those guys. I love Draymond [Green] and Klay [Thompson] and Steph [Curry] and Zaza [Pachulia] was my rookie [in Atlanta]. He's one of my great friends. I love him. I love Zaza. Larry Drew loves Zaza.
So, but when you play in the Finals and all the stuff that's built up throughout the course of the season, it is some rivalry there. And if both teams are fortunate enough to make it back, it would be epic.