The 2020-21 NBA regular season was plagued by injuries to its biggest stars and the postseason hasn’t been any different thus far.
On Wednesday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard suffered an ACL injury in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday and will likely miss the remainder of the series. If Leonard doesn’t play in Game 5, as is expected, he’ll become the eighth different All-Star to miss a playoff game this postseason, which is an NBA record, according to Elias Sports (h/t Malika Andrews of ESPN).
Kawhi Leonard will be the 8th different All Star to miss a playoff game this year — the most in a season in NBA History, per @EliasSports.— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) June 16, 2021
The others: A.D., James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid and Kyrie Irving. Chris Paul would be the 9th.
A few of those injuries have been a result of players landing awkwardly, but a good deal of them have been non-contact soft-tissue injuries, which there have been more of this season than any other season in NBA history. That could be a coincidence, but the general belief by health officials is that the league’s insistence on starting the season as soon as possible has led to this spike in injuries.
Naturally, the NBA has taken a good amount of criticism for their decision, and among their critics has been Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James. James wasn’t one of the NBA’s stars to miss time with a soft-tissue injury — he suffered his injury as a result of Atlanta Hawks forward Solomon Hill diving onto his ankle — but he’s empathized with the players that did, including his teammate Anthony Davis, throughout the season.
When news of Leonard’s injury broke on Wednesday, James took to Twitter to once again express his displeasure with how the NBA went about restarting the season:
They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn’t just “PART OF THE GAME”. It’s the lack of PURE— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
RIM REST rest before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games(most in league history). This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It’s insane. If there’s one person that know about the body and how it— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
works all year round it’s ME! I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
James’ critics have repeatedly pointed out that the NBPA agreed to start the season in December, but he didn’t seem interested in engaging in that debate on Wednesday:
And I know all about the business side too/factors so don’t even try me! I get it.— LeBron James (@KingJames) June 16, 2021
Is it just a tad bit strange for James to be taking a victory lap about being right about all of the injuries that this condensed season would lead to? Sure, but his messaging has been pretty consistent from the start of the season. Remember: this is the same guy that joked that he would cherry-pick for the first few months of the season.
Obviously there’s nothing that James or the NBA can do now, but it’s definitely something the league can learn from and hopefully avoid in the future.