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Lakers

LeBron James changes his stance, says he would play games without fans

LeBron James in the Lakers’ game Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center.
LeBron James on court in the Lakers’ game Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The only real changes the NBA has made in response to the coronavirus outbreak have involved limiting media interaction with players. They have closed locker rooms to media members, banned “scrums,” when reporters gather around a player or coach, and declared that for all group sessions, reporters must remain six to eight feet from their interview subjects.

For the Lakers, the first evidence of that policy occurred after Tuesday morning’s shootaround. LeBron James spoke to reporters in front of a Lakers backdrop, as he normally would, but this time there were ropes for reporters to stand behind. The ropes had been measured to be six feet away from where James was standing.

“So much safer. You guys are such a threat every time I come out,” a smiling James said facetiously. “No. No. I don’t even know who to … listen, I have no idea what happened with ... I miss you guys being right here.”

James then motioned his arms to indicate a small circle around him.

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“Like right here in my bubble,” James said. “Very challenging to do an interview like this.”

What was clear during his news conference was that James isn’t concerned about his own health. But in the four days since he said he would not play in a game that didn’t include fans, James has revised his stance, saying he will do so if it’s in the best interest of the franchise and the league.

“It’s funny, because when I was asked the question of would you play without ... fans, I had no idea that there was actually a conversation going on behind closed doors about the particular virus,” James said. “Obviously, I would be very disappointed not having the fans, because that is what I play for, I play for my family, I play for my fans. They say no one could actually come to the game if they decide to go to that point, so I would be disappointed in that. But at the same time, you’ve got to listen to the people that’s keeping a track on what’s going on.

“If they feel like it’s best for the safety of the players, the safety of the franchise, the safety of the league to mandate that, then we all listen to it.”

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James said he hasn’t changed any of his personal habits because of the coronavirus.

The team doctor spoke with players over the weekend about coronavirus safety. They were mostly told not to worry too much because their age group has not been severely affected by the virus.

The organization held a town hall on Monday so the team doctor could answer questions about the illness.

In victories over the Bucks and Clippers — two of the NBA’s finest teams — LeBron James showed how much of a difference-maker he is for the Lakers.

A league memo suggested teams reconsider the size of their traveling parties to reduce the number of people who had access to players. The Lakers don’t typically have many guests on their flights, and coach Frank Vogel said they have not made any changes to their travel party at this point.

At home, Vogel said he is taking common-sense precautions.

“Just wiping things down in the house, in my office, washing my hands relentlessly, and I’ve replaced the handshake with the dab,” Vogel said. “I just dab people now instead of shaking people’s hands. It’s a little cooler, and I think it’s gonna be trending in a little bit.”


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