Tyronn Lue is returning to work humbled, changed and with a new perspective.
Cleveland’s 40-year-old coach has been rewired by a health scare.
Lue will be back on the sidelines Thursday night leading the Cavaliers following a medical absence after experiencing “piercing” chest pains during two games this season. Looking rested and relaxed, he described his ordeal in some detail for the first time following shootaround at the team’s practice facility.
Lue, who guided the Cavs to an NBA title in 2016, said he had been bothered by chest pains for more than a year, but when they worsened during a March 17 game in Chicago, he realized it was time to step away and get help.
“It’s just the chest pains are very piercing, like, through the chest and around the rib area. So, it feels like you’re having a heart attack,” he said. “The doctor said, ‘You might die, but it won’t be from your heart.’ So, that was a good thing to hear that my heart’s in good shape. But it’s just like electricity shooting through your body, through your chest area.”
Lue has changed his diet, is exercising more frequently and taking medication to control the symptoms that forced him to re-examine his life.
More important, he now realizes there are more important things than worrying about Cleveland’s rotation, defending the pick and roll or getting the Cavs back to the NBA Finals.
While he was out for nine games, Lue received advice from a colleague and rival — Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who has been sidelined in the past with debilitating back pain. Lue said Kerr helped him understand the bigger picture by putting his health first.
“We get so wrapped up in the game of basketball I think we kind of forget about everything else,” Lue said. “This was the first time in 20 years where I really just had a chance to focus on me and get myself right and he reminded of that. We get so wrapped up in the game that we forget about real life and it was the best advice I got — so thank Steve for that.”
The Cavs travel to Philadelphia on Friday and Lue said coaching against the Wizards will be a good test to make sure he’s up for the rigors of travel and added stress.
“We know the games will be late and it will be a little bit more difficult, but just with travel and being asleep on the road and I’ve got to take my medication because sometimes I can be groggy in the first two or three hours when I wake up,” Lue said. “I just got to get in a routine and seeing how that’s going to feel.”
The Cavs, who have been ravaged by injuries all season, hardly missed a beat without Lue, going 8-1 under assistant Larry Drew. Lue has always trusted Drew but intends to lean on him even more as the Cavs head into their last four regular-season games before gearing up for the postseason.
“L.D. stepped up and did a great job,” Lue said. “And other coaches stepped up and they’ve been doing a great job also. So, whatever I need them to do, they all just said, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask.’ So, I’m very excited just for the playoff push. I kind of wish I could skip these four games and go right to the playoffs because that excites me.”
Cleveland’s players are thrilled to have Lue back. He recently returned in an advisory role, but stayed off the floor during games. Now that he’ll be back in the huddle, the Cavs feel whole.
“He challenges us,” LeBron James said. “He’s been with us. He’s our championship head coach so he knows everything about our team. He knows how to get the best out of our players, even though we’ve got a lot of new guys. But just his command, having him back out there. It’s going to be good for us.”
Following his health issues in Chicago last month, Lue said owner Dan Gilbert, general manager Koby Altman and others in Cleveland’s organization persuaded him it was time to seek help.
Lue agreed, and then James comforted him with encouraging words.
“Having LeBron’s validation, just being like, ’I got it. Take some time off. Get yourself ready for the playoffs. I’ll take care of the team. I’ll make sure everything is good,’” Lue said. “And he’s playing at a high level, so he’s a man of his word.”