Update: LeBron James ultimately received a one-game suspension for his altercation with Isaiah Stewart, who received a two-game suspension of his own for this role in the Lakers vs. Pistons melee.
Original story follows.
LeBron James struck Isaiah Stewart in the face last night during the Lakers’ 121-116 victory over the Detroit Pistons. That much is not in dispute. Whether it was intentional or an accident, though, was a debate that inflamed social media and has carried into the Lakers’ locker room for the last 24 hours.
After the team’s Monday practice, Carmelo Anthony says he didn’t even want to consider the possibility that James could be suspended for kicking off the whole kerfuffle.
Carmelo Anthony on the possibility of LeBron James not being available to play in tomorrow’s game against the Knicks: “We not gonna put that energy out there. We not gonna put that energy there.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) November 22, 2021
James’ camp also leaked to Shams Charania that James tried to reach out to Stewart over the phone after the game:
It was ABSOLUTE CHAOS in Detroit last night Shams.— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 22, 2021
"I'm told LeBron James did try to track down Isaiah Stewart's number post game to apologize again & let em know it was an inadvertent hit" ~@ShamsCharania#PMSOverreactionMonday #PatMcAfeeShowLIVE pic.twitter.com/NLUk1A4C6Q
On Sunday night, James did not speak with the media after being ejected, but both Anthony Davis and Frank Vogel came to his defense, saying that in their view, James clearly did not intend to strike Stewart in the face.
“On the free throw, boxing out, Stewart tried to get physical with Bron. Bron did the same thing. Everyone in the league knows Bron is not a dirty guy,” Davis said of his co-star, who — to his point — has only been tossed out twice in his 19 year career after Sunday’s night ejection.
“It was unfortunate contact,” Vogel added. “[LeBron] had an elbow to the ribcage, which was a foul and he was trying to shed the contact, and he had incidental contact. It was obviously enough for a Flagrant 2, but the reaction was what it was, and I think our guys did a good job protecting a teammate but not trying to escalate.”
In Davis’ opinion, things should never have escalated to the point that Stewart was trying to truck multiple teammates, opponents, players, coaches, referees and security guards to go after James.
“As soon as he (LeBron) did it, he looked back at him and told him ‘oh, my bad, I didn’t try to do it.’ He (Stewart) tried to...” Davis said, pausing to think about how he’d describe the ensuing events before concluding, “I don’t know what he was trying to do. But I know nobody on our team, 1-15, was having it. We’re going to protect our brother.”
The Lakers and Pistons had to be separated multiple times after this play between LeBron and Isaiah Stewart. pic.twitter.com/im0o7fXeoI— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 22, 2021
Davis thought the whole fracas was an overreaction, considering James’ quick apology.
“I’ve never, in 10 years, seen a player try to do that,” Davis said. “I mean, obviously we’ve seen it before, back in the day, but in recent basketball, it was uncalled for. You got cut above your eye, accidentally. It wasn’t on purpose. And we wasn’t going to allow him to keep charging our brother like that. I don’t know what he was trying to do, but we wasn’t going to allow that.”
Vogel said he was proud of not just the way his team rallied to get a win in the aftermath, but for the way they avoided a Malice at the Palace redux in Detroit.
“That’s what you want. You want peacekeepers in those situations and for the most part I feel like our guys did that, while obviously forming a wall around a teammate and standing up for each other without it turning into something uglier,” Vogel said. “I commend our guys for that.”
It seems like a lock that despite these protestations, both James (and Stewart, for that matter) are likely to receive punishment from the league, whether in the form of fines or suspensions. The Lakers were clearly trying to get ahead of that on James’ behalf, but we will see what the NBA decides to do before the Lakers continue their road trip with games against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, and Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.
This story may be updated with more information as it develops.