Houston Rockets forward Dillon Brooks (9) reacts toward Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) Jan 29, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Dillon Brooks (9) reacts toward Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) after scoring a basket during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston’s 135-119 victory over the Lakers on Monday marked another act in the ongoing drama of Dillon Brooks’ villain arc. Embracing his antagonist persona, Brooks, one of the league’s elite perimeter defenders, expertly needled under Jarred Vanderbilt’s skin until the young forward earned himself an ejection. He also continued his well-checkered history with LeBron James by smacking the 39-year-old star in the face.

The simmering tension between Brooks and Vanderbilt boiled over in the second quarter, with Vanderbilt’s frustration reaching a boiling point. Brooks, never one to shy away from a little extra jostling, met Vanderbilt with a playful nudge. Vanderbilt responded with a shove that resulted in a quick technical. However, the tension continued as Vanderbilt followed Brooks down the court. This culminated in a perplexing poke to the back of Brooks’ head.

It was the final straw, another technical sending Vanderbilt packing early.

But that wasn’t the most egregious part of Monday’s game. In the fourth quarter of Monday’s game — with Los Angeles down by 16 — Brooks crashed into James on a rebound, his arm inadvertently swinging across the Lakers star’s face. The impact sent James to the floor, clutching his face in pain. The referees immediately huddled, reviewing the play before ultimately calling a Flagrant 1 foul on Brooks.

And, of course, Brooks was allowed to remain in the game.

James, who has previously credited Brooks’ competitive spirit, was disinterested in discussing him in a postgame scrum with reporters. The usually candid James didn’t even allow the reporter to finish his question about Brooks, “We were here earlier in the year, you said about Brooks, and you said,” before he was abruptly cut off by the Lakers star.

“Next question,” said James.

Regardless of how you interpret it, LeBron’s silence served a clear purpose. It denied Brooks the oxygen of attention his antics craved, refusing to validate his ability to disrupt the team’s focus. Even if both the Vanderbilt and James incidents warranted ejections, LeBron wouldn’t give them the power to hijack the narrative.

It also likely serves as a message to other reporters that no matter the context, this isn’t a guy that James wants to speak on, even if he’s previously credited Brooks’ competitive nature.

[ClutchPoints, Dave McMenamin, ESPN]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.