LOS ANGELES — As he plopped down on a seat in front of the interview table, LeBron James showed an irritated expression on his face before admitting he felt “pretty confused, frustrated and angry.”
The reasons went beyond the Los Angeles Lakers’ 119-115 loss to the LA Clippers on Saturday (PHT) at Staples Center. Or that James had 23 points while shooting 9-of-23 from the field and 2-of-8 from 3-point range. It also had to do with James missing Wednesday’s (PHT) game in Sacramento after he had conflicting results with various COVID-19 tests. The NBA cleared him Friday after he had two consecutive negative tests.
“I knew I was going to get cleared. I never ever felt sick at all,” James said. “I know you can be asymptomatic. But if what I had was a positive COVID test, then what are we doing? What are we talking about? I thought it was handled very poorly.”
What was handled poorly?
“The fact that I tested negative first. Then my second test came back positive,” James said. “Usually when you have a positive test, they will test you right away to make sure. There was not a follow-up test after my positive test. It was straight isolation and then put into protocol. That’s the part that kind of angered me.”
James became angered with what happened next. The Lakers had flown to Sacramento for the game against the Kings. Although Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the team learned about James entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols on Tuesday morning, James said that he returned to L.A. on Monday evening.
“I had to figure out a way to get home from Sacramento by myself,” James said. “They wouldn’t allow anyone to travel with me – no security, no anything, when I flew back from Sacramento. I had to put my kids in isolation in the time being and people in my household in isolation for the time being. It was a big-time inconvenience.”
James said he had to isolate from his wife (Savannah), two sons (Bronny, Bryce) and daughter (Zhuri). James shared that he stayed inside his home from Monday evening until the NBA cleared him from its Health and Safety protocols on Thursday afternoon. When James attended the team’s morning shootaround on Friday, he said that marked the first time he touched a basketball since playing in Monday’s (PHT) game against the Detroit Pistons.
No wonder James said he knew he “would feel out of rhythm.” No wonder James described his defense with an expletive and admitted struggling with playing at the center position occasionally. No wonder James could not help the Lakers (12-12) extend their two-game winning streak against a Clippers team (12-11) that has also struggled with injuries.
“I commend him for playing a really good basketball game,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of James. “He didn’t really shoot it that well. His numbers weren’t great percentage wise, but I thought he was great. He competed through all that he’s been through the last couple of days.”
For any player that receives a positive COVID-19 test, the NBA requires that player to isolate. They can clear the league’s protocols after receiving two consecutive negative tests or after being asymptomatic for 10 days, whichever scenario happens first.
Although the NBA reports that about 97% of its players are fully vaccinated, the league has asked teams within the past month to encourage its players to receive the booster shot. Amid concerns about the Omicron variant and the travel-heavy schedule during the holidays, the NBA plans to have stricter protocols between players and personnel that receive or decline to receive the booster shot.
Although vaccinated players are not subject to various rules regarding social distancing and attending large events, the NBA’s players have been tested regularly amid concerns about breakthrough cases. The NBA’s enhanced testing also stems from concerns players could have more exposure to the virus during the holidays.
James confirmed at the team’s media day in October that he is fully vaccinated. He shook his head no after a reporter asked whether he has received the booster shot, and if this latest episode could influence his thoughts about the booster shot. But he did not offer a definitive answer about his status with receiving or declining the booster shot.
“We’ve all been doing exactly what the protocols are telling us to do and getting tested and things of that nature,” James said. “Unfortunately, you get a false positive and then you get put right into isolation. That’s just the unfortunate part about it.”
Given what he experienced this week, how would James like the NBA to change its protocols?
“I think they’ve done a great job ever since the protocols have been put in place,” James said. “I just think the way it was handled in Sacramento, it was a little different. I would say that. But from a league standpoint, they’ve done a hell of a job.”
James could hardly say the same thing about the Lakers’ season. They rank 7th in the Western Conference after entering the 2020-21 campaign as one of the team’s top title contenders. They have experienced varying hiccups with Russell Westbrook and integrating 11 new players. They also have experienced overlapping injuries, most notably to James.
Although he has averaged a respectable 25.8 points on efficient shooting from the field (48.4%) and from 3-point range (34.4%) along with 6.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds, James has yet to appear in four consecutive games amid varying reasons. He missed two games with a sore right ankle before sitting for an additional eight because an abdominal strain. The NBA suspended James for one game for “recklessly hitting” Pistons forward Isaiah Stewart and “initiating an on-court altercation.”
James then averaged 34 points on 43.3 minutes per game in the next three contests, which included an overtime win over Indiana and a triple-overtime loss to Sacramento, only for James to sit again for the Lakers’ second game against the Kings because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
“I felt like before going into Sacramento, I was getting into a really good rhythm, offensively and defensively as a team,” James said. “We were playing well. But for me, it’s been very frustrating and weird dealing with the groin, abdomen and then dealing with the false positive. That knocked me off the floor and not being able to keep my rhythm. It’s been a very challenging year to start for the season for myself.”
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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