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LeBron James confirms that he would play if the NBA played games in empty arenas

Lakers star LeBron James made waves when he said he wouldn’t play if the NBA scheduled games in empty arenas due to the threat of coronavirus. On Tuesday morning, he reversed course, claiming he didn’t fully understand the premise of the question.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

On Friday, Shams Charania of the Athletic reported that the NBA had sent a memo to teams explaining that, “due to coronavirus outbreak, teams should be preparing to play games without fans in attendance.” Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was asked about that hypothetical after the team’s win against the Milwaukee Bucks that same night, and made more than a few headlines with his response.

“Me play games without the fans? Nah, that’s impossible. I ain’t playing,” James said then. “If I ain’t got the fans in the crowd, that’s who I play for. I play for my teammates and I play for the fans, that’s what it’s all about. If I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans in there? I ain’t playing. So they can do what they want to do.”

On Tuesday at shootaround, however, he altered his stance a bit, and had a pretty good reason for doing so (via Mark Medina of USA Today):

“Well it’s funny, because when I was actually questioned, ‘would you play without no fans?’ I had no idea that it was an actual conversation going on behind closed doors about this particular virus. Obviously I would be very disappointed not having the fans, because that’s what I play for. I play for my family, I play for my fans.

“If they’re saying no one can actually come to the game, if they decide to go to that point, I’d be disappointed in that. But at the same time, you’ve got to listen to the people that’s keeping track of what’s going on. And if they feel like it’s best for the safety of the players, the safety of the franchise, the safety of the league to mandate that, then we’ll all listen to it.”

And to be as fair to possible to James, there were a couple contextual factors that back up his excuse here. For one, the direct question he was asked was “LeBron, apparently the possibility has arisen of playing NBA games without fans in the arena just to be safe because of coronavirus, have you thought about what that might be like?” It’s a totally legitimate question, but it’s also easy to see where he could have misunderstood that this was something the NBA was actually discussing, and he did initially ask “who?” multiple times before answering.

And as plugged in as arguably the league’s biggest star likely is to all of the NBA’s behind-the-scenes happenings, it is also completely possible that James was genuinely unaware of Charania’s report at the time he was asked about all this. Charania broke that story at 6:51 p.m. PST, which was just 40 minutes before the Lakers were scheduled to play the Bucks that night. It is entirely plausible that LeBron wasn’t exactly scrolling Twitter and focused on other things during that time, and that he didn’t see it before being asked. So let’s cut him some slack here.

Also, it definitely seems possible that the NBA will soon be postponing games, or playing them in empty arenas, due to the threat of COVID-19, or coronavirus. The league has already banned media and everyone but essential personnel from the locker rooms, and Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN reported that the league has a conference call scheduled for Wednesday to determine its next steps for dealing with the growing threat of coronavirus.

Ethan Strauss of the Athletic put out a story this morning that offered a fairly sobering warning:

According to Eliza Barclay and Dylan Scott of Vox Media, “as of March 10, there were more than 700 confirmed cases and at least 26 deaths” from coronavirus in the United States.

As a reminder, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is asking people to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

For more information on the coronavirus, visit

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