INDEPENDENCE: Of all the 800-plus text messages and well-wishes Tyronn Lue received upon being named coach of the Cavaliers, the most unlikeliest may have come from Allen Iverson.
When Iverson stepped over Tyronn Lue in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals, it instantly became one of the most memorable moments in Finals history. Rather than become defensive about it, Lue has learned to embrace the moment as an illustration of a career trajectory that has landed him in charge of one of the most talented teams in the league.
“I think it meant the same thing it means now getting this coaching job,” Lue said of the play. “Not really being anybody, getting a chance to perform on the big stage in the NBA Finals going against at that time the MVP, one of the top three best players in the NBA and just having the chance to come out of nowhere and try to take on that challenge.
“It’s kind of been my life story, being the underdog.”
Lue played for seven teams during an 11-year NBA career. His best season was 2004-05 with the Atlanta Hawks when he averaged 13.5 points and 4.5 assists, both career highs. But he is best known for the play against Iverson in the NBA Finals.
Lue defended the play correctly and had a hand in Iverson’s face. He made the shot anyway, and as Lue turned to watch the shot, he tripped and fell down. Iverson dramatically stepped over at him, glaring the whole way. Fifteen years later, the picture is still a viral sensation.
It was even made into a T-shirt one fan was wearing last year when the Cavs played at the Sixers in January. The fan was standing courtside when Lue emerged from the tunnel and he was good-natured enough to pose for a picture after pointing at the shirt.
“It definitely created buzz,” Lue said. “When I was going places, ‘Oh that’s the guy Allen Iverson stepped over.’ Well, if you know that, then you know me, so that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that.”
The Sixers won the game, but it was their only win in the series. The Los Angeles Lakers won the next four games and Lue earned his second championship ring, although he joked the other day he still gets booed whenever he returns to Philadelphia.
When Iverson tweeted the other day, “Congratulations to Tyron Lue. Well deserved and good luck. Love you,” it seemed surprising given their past. But Lue said the two actually became good friends and remain close today — but only after “probably four to five years after we hated each other” following that NBA Finals play.
Lue celebrated his first victory as coach Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’ll go for his second Wednesday when the Cavs host the Phoenix Suns. The players celebrated Monday by presenting Lue with the game ball following the victory, the first of what he hopes will be many more to come.
“It’s a special moment for anyone, for a rookie player, for a rookie head coach, for an expansion franchise,” LeBron James said. “When you get that first win, it’s very special and you never forget it.”
Nor do you forget the moments that led to it, such as Iverson’s step-over.
“I played good defense … people act like I got crossed over and I fell,” Lue said. “It doesn’t bother me. We won the championship. That’s all that matters. It’s all about winning.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.