The global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak could lead to one of the most unusual mandates in NBA history: games without fans in the stands. If that happens, LeBron James says he won’t play.
Speaking to the media after the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, James dished out his opinion on the matter.
“We play games without the fans? Nah, that’s impossible. I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd,” he said. “That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, I play for the fans, that’s what it’s all about. If I show up to an arena and there ain’t no fans in there, I ain’t playing.”
Sports leagues and international sporting competitions spanning the globe have postponed, canceled or altered their schedules in coordinated efforts to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
LeBron James speaks out
That said, the NBA superstar insisted that he wouldn’t support a policy of playing behind closed doors.
“I ain’t never played a game without no fans ever since I started playing ball,” LeBron James declared after a 37-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance against the Bucks. “I don’t give a damn, this ain’t Europe. They can do what they want to do.”
There will be no shortage of opinions about LeBron James’ remarks on social media.
Indeed, he’ll have plenty of critics.
“Can someone please remind @KingJames that more @NBA fans watch games on TV than in ANY arena,” tweeted @rolandsmartin. “The vast majority of NBA fans can’t even afford a ticket. So he might want to revise his position on COVID-19.”
NBA issues memo
LeBron James’ headline-grabbing comments came after the NBA issued a memo to 30 teams concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Due to the spread of the virus, the memo stated that NBA clubs should get ready for the chance that games could be held without fans.
Meanwhile, the global COVID-19 crisis continues. As of Monday morning, more than 109,000 people in 97 countries have been infected with the coronavirus, with nearly 3,300 deaths. There are more than 500 confirmed cases in the United States.
The NBA has implemented precautionary measures in recent days, which were issued in a memo on March 1.
For example, the league has instructed players to not high-five fans (opting for fist bumps instead) during the COVID-19 outbreak. The NBA also instructed players to not take items, such as pens and memorabilia from the public, for autographs.
Furthermore, the NBA has informed clubs that is has reached out to the Centers for Disease Control and other experts for advice.
In the memo, the league wrote: “We are also in regular communication with each other, NBA teams including team physicians and athletic trainers, other professional sports leagues, and of course, many of you.”
Developing a plan
The NBA scheduled a conference call with team doctors and trainers for Monday night to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak.
NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski sent out a tweet highlighting the planned topics of discussion for the conference call.
“New memo to teams says each is required to have several plans in place by Tuesday, including arrangement with an infectious disease specialist, the IDing of a facility to test for coronavirus, a plan to limit number of team and arena staff who’d interact with players,” Wojnarowski tweeted.
Media access could be reduced
In addition, the NBA is mulling the possibility “of limiting locker room access to only players and team personnel due to concerns over the coronavirus,” Sports Illustrated reported.
The NHL is barring media members from locker rooms before and after games, and the NBA could decide to establish a similar policy as the ice hockey league. The NHL policy is based on CDC recommendations.
NCAA games without fans
Even if LeBron James doesn’t support the precautionary measures revealed in NBA memos, some college games were held behind closed doors in recent days.
For the NCAA Division III men’s tournament, Johns Hopkins University, one of the tourney sites, didn’t permit spectators to enter the gym for the first and second rounds of the event.
“In light of Maryland’s recently confirmed cases of COVID-19, and based on CDC guidance for large gatherings, we have determined that it is prudent to hold this tournament without spectators,” the school said in a statement.
Points to ponder
If the NBA does issue a call for games to be played behind closed doors for the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, will LeBron James dismiss his proclamation? Will he be pressured to change his mind?
Because his team is capable of winning the title this season, will he issue follow-up statements to underline the fact that he’s chasing history?
Or, if he refuses to play if the Lakers are ordered to play sans fans, how will Lakers management and the league office respond?
And how would the National Basketball Players Association respond if LeBron James is fined and/or suspended?