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3 reasons LeBron James’ suspension vs. Knicks for Isaiah Stewart foul is unwarranted

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The Los Angeles Lakers got LeBron James back on Friday vs. the Boston Celtics after he missed eight games with an abdominal strain. One blowout loss and ugly first half later, LeBron was out of action again — ejected from the Lakers clash with the Detroit Pistons for a flagrant-2 foul on Isaiah Stewart early into the third quarter. (The Lakers rallied for victory, in arguably their best win of the season.)

On Monday, the NBA hit James with a one-game suspension — the first of his 19-year career.

LeBron will miss Tuesday’s nationally-televised contest against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden — a stage on which he’s stolen the show as memorably as anybody not named Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.

Personally, I was surprised by the news. Here are three reasons why:

3) The extent of the contact seemed inadvertent

As I tweeted, LeBron deserved to be ejected for his flagrant-2 foul. He swung his arm unnecessarily recklessly.

However, I don’t believe he intended to whack Stewart in the face and bloody up his eye. Of course, those are the consequences of reckless acts, but I’m not sure the intent was to maim the Pistons big man.

2) The scenario was heightened by Stewart’s response

In the NBA’s statement, the league said LeBron was suspended for “recklessly hitting Stewart in the face and initiating an on-court altercation.”

The first part I agree with (see: above). The second part I do not. I suppose LeBron technically initiated the altercation, as nothing would have gone down had LeBron not caught Stewart in the eye.

But James was instantly apologetic, seemed to have no interest in elevating the situation beyond some chirping, and reportedly sought out Stewart’s phone number after the game to explain the accidental nature of the incident and further apologize.

Whether he accepted LeBron’s apology or not, had Stewart not instigated a chaotic scene, one wonders if LeBron would be penalized to the same extent.

1) LeBron has no history of this 

The ejection was only the second of LeBron’s career and the first since a 2017 game in which he barked too much at officials.

LeBron has a decorated history of flopping and jawing at refs, but he has no track record of dirtiness (unlike a couple of his banana boat buddies.)

“Everyone in the league knows LeBron’s not a dirty guy,” Anthony Davis said Sunday. “A soon as he did it, he looked back at him like, ‘Oh, my bad. I didn’t try to do it.’”

James has not been suspended from a basketball game since his senior year of high school — and that was for accepting two throwback jerseys as gifts.

Since he’s been in the league, James has dutifully avoided these kinds of altercations. There’s no known beef between him and Stewart, who is 17 years his junior. Considering the context, James’ remorse seemed genuine, and his momentary lapse of physical discipline and was deeply out of character. His flagrant-2 was certainly warranted, but did not seem especially egregious.

LeBron’s next appearance should be on Wednesday, as the Lakers end their five-game East Coast road trip against the Indiana Pacers.