LeBron James on games without spectators: ‘I ain’t playing’

Lakers forward LeBron James, shown during the win over the Bucks on March 6, 2020, insists he won't play in games without fans present.
Lakers forward LeBron James says if there are no fans in the stands, he won’t play.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

NBA games without fans in the stands? LeBron James doesn’t want to hear about it.

“We play games without the fans? Nah. Impossible,” James said after the Lakers’ victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night when told of the possible scenario. “I ain’t playing if you don’t have the fans in the crowd. That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. So, if I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans in there? I ain’t playing. So, they can do what they want to do.”

As the worldwide coronavirus crisis continued to grow in size and scope Saturday, sports leagues tried to ramp up their plans on how to handle a virus that has infected over 106,000 and killed more than 3,500, including 17 in the U.S.

The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer are considering the option of restricting access to locker rooms as a way to protect players from exposure.


The NBA has sent a series of memos to teams the last two days on the subject. A memo from Friday, which was examined by The Times, listed steps that teams should take to ensure preparedness in case the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or another government agency determines it is unsafe for fans to gather in arenas for games.

That memo did not say the league planned to hold events without spectators but acknowledged the possibility of such games. It asked teams to determine their essential personnel, a plan for communicating with nonessential team and arena staff, a plan for communicating with ticket holders and corporate partners as well as a plan for how to handle media access for games.

On Saturday, the NBA followed with another memo that The Times reviewed, with further instructions.

In it, the league informed teams of a conference call to be held Monday evening with team physicians and trainers throughout the NBA, urging each team to have at least one representative on the call. The memo Saturday also asked that, by Tuesday, each team have a plan in place to handle the spread of the virus.

Teams should find an infectious disease specialist who can consult with the team and communicate with public health authorities, and provide that name to the league. Other contingencies outlined were identifying a facility for coronavirus testing and a plan to implement such testing should it be necessary, as well as a plan in case it’s necessary to limit the number of people who interact with players and staff.

The NBA also asked that teams have processes in place to distribute hand sanitizer to players and traveling party members, and make sure documents regarding coronavirus safety are distributed among players, their families and staff members who interact closely with players.


The memo also recommended that teams’ traveling parties, which often include guests and support staff, be limited to “essential individuals only.”
James, the Lakers’ superstar forward, insisted Friday that he won’t play in an empty arena.

“I never played a game without no fans,” James said. “Ever. Since I started playing ball.”

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said players met with a team doctor Saturday. “Just pretty common-sense type of stuff, wash your hands, avoid contact with others, that type of things,” he said.

The first Lakers-Clippers matchup, in October, was a spectacle. The second, on Christmas, was a thriller. On Sunday, it’s likely a playoff preview.

March 7, 2020

Several other sports made news with moves Saturday.

▶ NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Associated Press that the league had not reached the point of considering games being played without fans.

“I don’t want to create any speculation or hysteria,” Bettman said. “There are obviously a variety of consequences that we may have to focus on and we’ll do that in the appropriate time, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, OK?”

The Kings were one of three teams that kept their locker rooms closed after games the last two days. The Kings brought players out to a designated interview area at Staples Center following their 7-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

▶ The Angels saw a presentation about the coronavirus in their spring training clubhouse Saturday morning. Manager Joe Maddon said the league mostly delivered information about the virus that could be learned by watching television reports, but he believed it was useful.


The Angels have considered limiting interactions between fans and players. If they take that path, they would follow teams like the Washington Nationals.

The World Series champions announced Saturday that players had been advised to avoid shaking hands and exchanging items with people outside the organization.

The players will instead autograph team-provided items and distribute those to people in the stands.

In a statement, Major League Baseball said: “We are undertaking many precautions currently. For example, we are asking anyone — including media — who has visited a high-risk area, as defined by the CDC, within the last 14 days not to visit our facilities.”

▶ The Golden State Warriors said that guard Stephen Curry, who did not play Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers, was diagnosed with flu and was not at specific risk for the coronavirus.

▶ Sacramento Sheldon High had to withdraw from the state boys’ basketball tournament Saturday when the Elk Grove Unified School District canceled all school activities after being informed by the local health department that a family was put on quarantine because of testing positive for coronavirus. The district canceled classes and activities for a week. Sheldon was scheduled to play Dublin in the Open Division semifinals Saturday. Dublin will advance to the Northern California final Tuesday.
▶ Other sports around the world affected by coronavirus included the cancellation of the women’s world hockey championships and Arctic Winter Games in Canada.


Staff writers Mike DiGiovanna, Helene Elliott, Maria Torres, Dan Woike and Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.