After his 17th year in the league — which was shaping up to potentially be an all-timer — came to a screeching halt when pro basketball, like the rest of the world, shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, LeBron James says it would be hard to accept an incomplete ending.
“I don’t know if I will be able to have any closure,” James said Wednesday on a Zoom video conference call with reporters, four weeks to the day since the NBA shut down.
James, sporting a bushy beard and in good spirits all things considered, was responding to a reporter wondering what it would be like for the 35-year old superstar if the 2019-20 NBA season can’t be resumed.
When the league shuttered in March, the Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a 2-0 weekend against the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers, backing up their place atop the Western Conference standings. James was playing spectacularly.
A fourth career championship and even a fifth regular-season MVP award were not out of the question if James and the Lakers continued on the track they were on.
However, if forced to reflect on the season-that-was should COVID-19 make it impossible to salvage some sort of finish to the season, James does have positive thoughts flood in amid the obvious disappointment.
“I can have some satisfaction on what our team has been able to do this year, having a first-year coach, first-year system, a whole new coaching staff, bringing on so many new pieces to our team this year. Doing the things that I honestly — like I told you guys all year — I honestly didn’t think that we would be able to come together as fast as we did,” James said. “I thought it would take us a lot longer than it did. But I was wrong. I was very wrong about that.”
James then alluded to everything else the Lakers went through — a season that started with a preseason games abroad nearly canceled by the Chinese government and included the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter accident — and could take solace in how he and his “brothers” stuck together.
“Everything that we’ve been going through this season, just the ups and downs — not only on the floor, but off the floor. Everything that we’ve had to endure as the Laker faithful and us as players and the coaching staff and the organization, it’s been so much,” James said. “So, closure? No. But to be proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish to this point, I’ll be able to look back and be like, ‘OK, we did something special in that small period of time.'”
Still, for James, who remained optimistic for the entirety of the nearly 30-minute call, there remains reason for hope. While he famously first dismissed the notion of participating in NBA games without fans in attendance — “I ain’t playing,” he said last month — he’s since softened that stance.
“If it comes to a point if we’re playing without our fans, we still know that we have Laker faithful with us in spirit,” he said. “We know they’ll be home cheering us on, online, on their phones, on their tablets watching us playing so hopefully we can bottle that energy that we know we’re getting from them. Bottle that loyalty that they’ve had for not only this year but since the Lakers have been in Los Angeles. So hopefully we’re able to channel that. Channel that energy, channel that focus and bring them with us if we’re either at Staples without fans or we’re somewhere in an isolated location playing the game of basketball.”
He also walked back comments he made on the Road Trippin’ Podcast several weeks ago when hosts Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Allie Clifton suggested the league could restart if all essential personnel — players, coaches, training staff, medical staff, referees, broadcasters, etc. — were quarantined together in the same location for the duration of the games left on the schedule and he dismissed that scenario, saying, “I ain’t going for that s—.”
“I believe once [the pandemic is] under control and they allow us to resume some type of activity, I would love to get the season back going,” James said Wednesday. “I feel like we’re in a position where we can get back and start to compete for a championship, get back to doing what we love to do, making our Laker faithful proud of us, of being back on the floor. And if it’s in one single isolated destination … if it’s Las Vegas or somewhere else that can hold us and keep us in the best possible chance to be safe, not only on the floor but also off the floor as well, then those conversations will be had. Just figuring out a way.”
In the meantime, James is trying to stay ready. While he says he hasn’t consulted with NBA commissioner Adam Silver about the situation yet, he has weekly conversations with the Lakers as a group and more frequent communication with coach Frank Vogel, president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and his co-star, Anthony Davis.
He meditates. He trains four to five times a week in his personal gym and visits friends who have private basketball courts in their home to get up shots with his 15-year-old son, Bronny.
And he slips into quarantine activities many in this country are used to: video games with his sons, tea parties with his daughter, card games with his wife and yes, he even binge watched “Tiger King” on Netflix. “Pretty much anything that has the word ‘king’ in it, I pretty much watch,” the man whose Instagram handle is @kingjames, said with a laugh. “‘Tiger King,’ ‘Lion King,’ all of the kings. Yeah, I do all of that, I watch them all.”
He says he misses the NBA, adding, “that’s for damn sure,” to show how much he meant it. But he is trying to accept the time everyone finds themselves in right now.
“I believe that this is a roadblock for all of us, not only as Americans, but for the world,” James said. “This is a roadblock, it’s a test for all of us. It’s a test of our mental side, our spiritual side, it’s a test for everything. We had grew so comfortable with how we live our life and everyday life that it’s now time to take a pause.”