Dillon Brooks is the man basketball fans love to hate, but Canada wouldn’t swap him for anyone as they prepare for a historic first World Cup semi-final on Friday.
Brooks is the troublemaker-in-chief in the Canada team, using all his dark arts of defending to needle, harass and bully opponents into submission.
It was a role he performed to perfection in Wednesday’s quarter-final win over Slovenia in Manila, pushing Luka Doncic so far to the limit that the Dallas Mavericks superstar snapped and got himself ejected in the fourth quarter.
But small forward Brooks, who in July swapped the Memphis Grizzlies for the Houston Rockets, does more than just get under opponents’ skin.
The 27-year-old scored 22 points in Canada’s second-round win over defending champions Spain, with team-mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander calling his performance “one for the books”.
“He’s a leader, he does the right things on the basketball floor, he plays with the right energy,” said Gilgeous-Alexander.
“He’s a guy that you always want on your team.”
Brooks embellished his notoriety last season in the NBA when he clashed with Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James.
Brooks called James “old” after the Grizzlies beat the Lakers in the second game of their playoff series, then got himself ejected in the next game after hitting the 38-year-old with a low blow.
Brooks was up to his old tricks against Slovenia, getting physical with Doncic and having a word in his ear whenever possible.
The Manila fans cheered Doncic’s every touch and booed Brooks, who responded by blowing a kiss to the crowd after nailing an early three-pointer.
Canada head coach Jordi Fernandez said Brooks “had to be better” after getting himself ejected shortly before Doncic, but he could not fault his player for effort.
“I think today was a defensive clinic of leading with his chest, showing his hands, pressuring full-court,” said Fernandez.
“And if you don’t think that way, then you don’t like basketball.”
Even Doncic had to give Brooks begrudging credit, saying he played with physicality “like he always does”.
“A lot of people don’t like him but I respect him for what he does, and he does that stuff pretty good,” said Doncic.
Canada have already clinched a spot at the Paris Olympics as one of the two highest-finishing teams from the Americas at the World Cup — the first time that they have qualified for the Games since 2000.
They play Serbia in the semi-finals, with the winner facing either the United States or Germany for the title, and Brooks says that a maiden World Cup triumph would be huge for Canadian basketball.
“It means that a lot of kids back home are going to pick up a basketball and try to play and try to make it to where we’re at,” he said.
“It gets guys motivated to come back and play for their country.”
Brooks has no plans to tone down his abrasive style, but is aware that he can take things too far.
Asked what impact coach Fernandez had had on him, he said he was learning “how to control my emotions, how to be a leader out there on the floor”.
“Ultimately, he tries to challenge me to be the best playmaker,” he said.
World Cup News
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Tuesday blasted as “insufficient” the apology given by...
Spain’s Women’s World Cup hero Olga Carmona paid tribute to her father on Monday...
Spain midfielder Jenni Hermoso defended Spanish football federation president Luis Rubiales after he came...
Sunday’s World Cup final between England and Spain is the final act of a...