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LeBron James says Lakers fans ‘know when bad basketball is being played’ and ‘have the right to have any response they want’

LeBron James went out of his way multiple times on Friday night to specify that he’s playing for Lakers fans, and trying to give them something to cheer about. It was hard not to read some subtext from his remarks.

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Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

When Lakers guard Russell Westbrook was being defended against the taunts of “Westbrick” he hates so much by everyone from franchise legend Magic Johnson and current teammate Kent Bazemore to head coach Frank Vogel and Warriors star Stephen Curry, it was hard not to notice one particularly outspoken fellow member of the locker room who said nothing: LeBron James.

James regularly weighs in on whatever the NBA topic du jour is on his massive Instagram or Twitter accounts, or, failing that, in postgame interviews. But for nearly a week, James has said nothing to directly address the situation regarding Westbrook... at least not until Friday night, when many read between the lines of one of his answers to the media following the Lakers’ 122-109 win over the Washington Wizards.

After that victory, James was asked about soaking in energy from the crowd as he’s scored a total of 106 points in his last two home games. Here is the full question, and his answer, so anyone can judge for themselves if they think James was sending a subtle rebuke to Westbrook for calling out Lakers fans:

Reporter: You’ve always, especially during the pandemic season, told us how much you missed the energy in crowds and stuff like that. It hasn’t always been great this year because of the losing at home, but between this and Saturday, it seems like you’ve really kind of soaked some of that in when it’s been there like tonight. What have those moments been like for you?

James: “It’s been great. I mean listen: The Laker faithful know when bad basketball is being played, and they know when good basketball is being played. They have the right to have any response they want. At the end of the day, they’ve seen so many great teams, so many great individuals, so many great individual performances, so many great things in this building and over the course of this franchise’s history. So for me, being a part of this franchise, I feel like I just try to give them an opportunity to have memorable nights as well, and try to give them something to cheer for. Something to feel good about on a nightly basis. I know it hasn’t been as great as they would like it to be this year, but you take the small wins when they come for sure.”

You can watch the answer for yourself around the two-minute mark of the video below:

Like most possible shade from James, this could be read as completely innocent and having nothing to do with Westbrook if taken completely in a vacuum and totally outside of the context of the last week. But he’s also smart enough to know that’s not how the world works.

However, in the interest of complete fairness, James did also just seem particularly intent on re-ingratiating himself to Lakers fans after a rough season, and making it clear that he sees it as an honor to play for this franchise. This was obvious in his answer when he was asked earlier in the evening about the crowd energy during his walk-off interview with sideline reporter Mike Trudell on Spectrum SportsNet, and his answer at that point would be slightly harder to read as shade at Russ:

It’s been such a tough season, and these fans continue to come out and you started to kind of experience that with them these last two games, how important is that to you?

“I mean, this is the Laker faithful. They know when you’re playing bad basketball, and they know when you’re playing good basketball, and it’s our job to go out there and play inspired basketball and good basketball for these fans that have seen so many great games, so many great performances and and so many greats over the years. So I hold that with a lot of responsibility on my shoulders and in my heart.”

So, like most remarks from James, the intent can be taken totally differently depending on what one is predisposed to believe, like a verbal Rorschach test. If you want to take them at face value, that’s your call. If you want to read deeper and see them as a shot at Westbrook or a message of support for Lakers fans — or both — you’d also be within your rights to do so.

The intent is in the eye of the beholder, with enough plausible deniability baked in for the various parties involved here to believe in or argue against any scenario. James, already the greatest basketball player of all time, has also spent most of this season showing us that he is a different kind of GOAT: The Greatest Of All Talkers.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.