LeBron James talks NBA All-Star Game concerns, COVID-19 vaccine, voting and Lakers’ play

LeBron James joined a conference call to promote Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game. In that same call, however, James reiterated his concerns about the league even having the game.

“Obviously I love our league. I love the game of basketball at the highest level and doing what I love to do,” James said Sunday. “I just think under these circumstances with what we’re going through still with the pandemic and everything with the season, I just thought we could’ve looked at it a little bit differently. But that’s out of my hands. I can only control what I can control.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended the decision, saying the reasons went beyond the economic benefits of maximizing the league’s television contract with TNT. Silver argued the game would enhance the league’s global brand. He added the NBA and various sponsors are donating more than $3 billion to HBCUs, and giving them additional exposure through the game’s telecast.

Still, the NBA escaped a possible scare when Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid and forward Ben Simmons were ruled out of Sunday’s game after being exposed to a barber who tested positive for COVID-19. The NBA said in a statement that Embiid and Simmons were exposed in Philadelphia as opposed to Atlanta. The NBA has required All-Star participants to stay quarantined at a private hotel only with select family and friends in between events, while adhering to daily testing and safety protocols. Yet, the late scratch to Embiid and Simmons captured the risks of hosting even a closed All-Star Game during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously something like that happening is something we all thought could possibly happen,” James said. “I hate the fact that Joel and Ben would not be able to play today because of that. Best wishes to them obviously, even though they’re not the ones that tested positive, but with all the contact tracing and all that mess. But we’re here.”

So with James isolated in his hotel room in Atlanta, the Los Angeles Lakers star used his time to speak out on various topics pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccine, basketball and social justice causes.

Silver has said the NBA won’t require players to take the vaccine, but noted the league’s encouragement because of its effectiveness as well as the likelihood it will lead to reduced safety protocols. Does that mean James feels comfortable taking the vaccine once it becomes available?

“That’s a conversation that my family and I will have. Pretty much keep that to a private thing,” James said. “Obviously I saw Adam had his comments about the vaccination. But things like that, when you decide to do something, that’s a conversation between you and your family and not for everybody. I’ll keep it that way.”

James reiterated the importance of his “More Than a Vote” initiative even four months removed from the presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Although James considered increased voting turnout as critical to ensure Trump was not reelected, the Lakers star noted various governments have tried to pass new voting restrictions that would suppress voter turnout in the Black community.

“The work is not completed. It’s never completed,” James said. “Even if you have a victory, it’s never completed. We just want people to know even though with the election that happened, and a lot of it happened in our favor in November, there’s still more work to be done.”

LeBron James and the Lakers are third in the West at the break.

James also spoke on matters of relatively less importance.

The Lakers (24-13) rank third in the Western Conference behind the Utah Jazz (27-9) and Phoenix Suns (24-11) after losing seven of their last 10 games while Anthony Davis rests his strained right calf. Dennis Schröder also missed four games because of the league’s contact tracing policies.

“I like where we are. I don’t love where we are because we have losses,” James said. “If we were 36-0, I’d be fine. But anytime we lose, I don’t like it. But other than that, I like where we are.”

James, 36, also stressed “there’s no concern for me” on how he has managed his workload during his 17th season. He missed the Lakers’ last game in Sacramento both to rest and heal a sprained left ankle after logging increased minutes from January (31.4), February (33.9) and March (36.3).

“I just continue to put my body in the best condition to endure anything — shortened offseason, shortened regular season, shortened break, All-Star break,” James said. “It’s all about my mind personally, keeping my mind mentally sharp and keeping my mind mentally fresh and going about that.”

James has maximized his sleep to boost his immune system in case he contracts COVID-19. So far, James has not tested positive or been exposed to others who had the virus. He reported staying disciplined with the NBA’s protocols that call for daily testing, mask-wearing and social-distancing rules. James added his daily itinerary simple entails being at home, the Lakers’ practice facility or an NBA arena. And yet…

“It’s just part of luck,” James said. “I can’t sit here and say I’m a ghostbuster when it comes to COVID because I’m not. I just try to follow the protocol.”

James was not as forthcoming on other topics.

He politely declined to share any favorite All-Star weekend memories involving Kobe Bryant, who died along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others last year from a helicopter crash. James also expressed ignorance about the popularity of NBA Top Shot.

“I have not heard of that,” James said. “So I’m unaware of it.”

James is aware, however, of the reasons why the NBA has stuck with its plans to have an All-Star Game in Atlanta. Despite James’ reservations about the game itself, he supported the league for collaborating with various sponsors to donate more than $3 million to HBCUs and increase their exposure through the telecast.

“Timing is everything. You don’t want to force a lot of things. You want to make sure it was organic,” James said about supporting HBCUs. “You want to make sure it was right and make sure the timing was right. The platform is there so we can highlight it more than just giving money. Giving the support, giving the structuring and giving the resources is just as valuable to it as the money.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

You may also like...