It’s fair to say that LeBron James is not exactly thrilled about the first suspension of his NBA career. And after the Lakers star returned to the court to score 39 points and lead his team to an overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers following his one-game punishment for — he claims accidentally — hitting Isaiah Stewart in the face, he sounded off to Dave McMenamin of ESPN about the league’s judgement.
In addition to telling McMenamin that he was “devastated” to not get to suit up in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks — his “favorite place in the world to play” — he had a pretty short reaction to (and retelling of) finding out about his one-game ban (emphasis mine):
“Rob [Pelinka] called me. I missed his call,” James told ESPN of the Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager dialing in the bad news. “As soon as when I checked my phone and it was a missed call, I was like, ‘I know I’m suspended.’
“I mean, it’s some bulls---. But whatever.”
If that didn’t make it clear enough that James disagreed with the league’s choice, he also described their decision-making process as them doing “what the f--- they got to do.” The whole thing, including James telling McMenamin about why it all has him more excited for Thanksgiving, is worth your time.
And when listening to James re-tell his version of the events to the assembled media last night for the first time, it’s clear why he feels aggrieved by the league’s judgement:
“What happened was there was a boxout on the free-throw line. His elbow got kind of high... it got me off-balance a little bit. His elbow lifted my arm, and I basically tried a swim move, to swim down on him, on his arm. And when I swam down on his arm, he got off balance and the left side of my hand grazed his face.
“I knew right away I had caught some part of his head, so I went over to apologize to him, and obviously, you guys saw what happened after that. But [it was] definitely accidental. I mean, just like the play last night on Russ, an accidental hit in the mouth. Just like Sabonis’ play tonight, an accidental hit to the eye (Editor’s Note: James was hit in the eye by Domantas Sabonis against the Pacers, requiring a bandage above his right eye postgame). I definitely am not that type of player, so I definitely hate to see that, and what escalated after that, but I didn’t think it warranted [a suspension].
“I thought it warranted an ejection because of what happened after that. You know, having me still in the game and the excitement from the fans and what could possibly happen after that, obviously. But a suspension, I didn’t think it was warranted. But the league made that call, and we’re here today.”
Anthony Davis missed Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms that left him bed-ridden with a fever all day after gutting through them the night before against the Knicks, but on Tuesday, he preemptively agreed with his co-star’s assessment:
“I was surprised. I didn’t think he’d get suspended. I don’t think no one thought he was going to be suspended to be honest... I mean, it was an accident. He accidentally hit him in the face, but I guess the report came out and said his hit to the face caused the incident, which is weird, because he can’t control how a guy is gonna react.
“Guys get hit in the face all the time, and if we’re saying that caused the incident, you know, I get hit in my face probably more than anyone. And if I go off and do all that, does the other guy who hit me in the face get suspended as well? It was strange, but nothing we can do about it.”
On Wednesday night, James replied a quick-and-curt “no” when asked if he had been able to get in contact with Stewart, something he was reportedly trying to do before the suspension came down. But he won’t have to wait long to find him, as the Lakers will host the Pistons at Staples Center on Sunday. That was already going to be must-see TV, and is even more so now after these comments.
So yeah. I did not have “LeBron James spends Thanksgiving week in an ongoing feud with one of the worst teams in the league” on my Insane Lakers 2021-22 Season™ Bingo Card, but here we are. And if the tryptophan from James’ Thursday turkey doesn’t cool him down, then the Pistons may be about to get deep fried.