In 2002, Tyronn Lue had no idea what was to come

The three-time NBA champion discusses his humble beginnings over 10 years ago

Las Vegas bets on everything. So if there is a way to bet on which Cleveland Cavalier receives the loudest ovation at Wednesday’s championship parade, chances are LeBron James is the safest wager. The second, though? It should be head coach Tyronn Lue.

Credit Lue as much as James for instilling a championship mentality in an organization that, before this week, was more used to the concept of being the league’s underdog, not top dog. The running theme around Lue’s presence and philosophy all season has been his ability to relate to players, which is, in many ways, as important as X’s and O’s. Need proof? Look no further than how James responded after the rookie head coach pulled his card following a midseason blowout in Miami. From that moment until the final buzzer sounded on the championship game on Sunday, James cut off cruise control and locked all the way in.

Fourteen years ago, when he was a teammate of Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards (and James was a senior in high school), Lue’s ability to relate not only to his teammates, but the community at large, was on display. In vintage footage, documentarian and youth mentor Curtis Mozie caught up with Lue, then 25, at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C. He opened up on the all-too-common theme of escaping the streets that many NBA players share.

“Eighty-five percent of the guys that’s in the NBA been through this lifestyle,” said Lue, already a two-time NBA champion with the Shaquille O’Neal- and Kobe Bryant-era Los Angeles Lakers. “It’s nothing new to us. It’s why so many of us give to the community. We know what everyday life is in the ‘hood.”

Life didn’t always include championship parades for Lue, who in this clip attended an event thrown by the nonprofit, Bread for the City, which handed out free turkeys for Thanksgiving. As he got older, his circle got smaller — perhaps by choice, but also by life being a constant reminder that it has never been and never will be fair. Friends lose their lives to violence and/or incarceration. But the future championship coach envisioned a world beyond the environment that raised him. Lue dedicated his message to “1512,” Mozie’s apartment number. His place operated as a safe house where gang members could discuss real-life problems and express real-life emotions they couldn’t on the streets.

Asked how it felt to be a champion, however, Lue simply said it felt “great.” Circling back to Las Vegas and bets? Let’s just say put the house on him saying a few more words than that on Thursday.