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Lakers, LeBron James, NBA All-Star Game

LeBron James rips NBA for ‘slap in the face’ All-Star Game

On Thursday, LeBron James reminded the basketball world why he’s the deserved leading vote-getter for the Western Conference for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game.

However, James would prefer to skip the trip to Atlanta on March 7 for his 17th All-Star appearance. In fact, the face of the league lambasted the reported decision to forge ahead with the exhibition showcase during a pandemic amidst a condensed season.

James was asked about the recent agreement between the NBA and players association (NBPA) in his postgame Zoom conference after brilliantly leading the Lakers to a 114-93 victory over the Denver Nuggets. The future Hall of Famer did not hide his feelings.

“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” James said. “I don’t even understand why we’re even having an All-Star Game this year.”

LeBron intimated that the players were misled, and said he was looking forward to the five days off in March after a shortened offseason (for the champs).

“Coming into this season we were told that we were not having an All-Star Game,” the Lakers superstar said. “Then they throw an All-Star Game on us … it’s pretty much kind of a slap in the face. We’re still dealing with a pandemic.”

“Obviously, the pandemic has nothing to do with it at this point,” James added, pointing out that the decision by the league that admirably set up an expensive and elaborate bubble last summer is decidedly not putting safety first, in this case.

James said he’ll be a good soldier and show up at the State Farm Arena, but won’t be enthusiastic about taking part.

“I’m not very happy about it, but it’s out of my hands,” he said, “I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the league is near an agreement on an East vs. West affair and skills competitions in a one-night event.

Even the NFL — which is not known for prioritizing health and safety — converted their Pro Bowl into a Madden event. (Speaking of football, James’ stance on this Sunday’s Super Bowl is less firm than his All-Star one).

James is not only the leading vote-getter in the West, he may have cemented himself as the MVP frontrunner after his majestic domination of fellow MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference Finals.

James’s seasoned, Year-18-greatness was on full display both on the court and in the record books. In the first quarter, he passed Wilt Chamberlain to take third place on the league’s all-time field goals made list.

“The number doesn’t do much for me, I think the association with a legend like Wilt Chamberlain, that does something for me,” LeBron James said. “I’m a guy who grew up reading about the game, studying the game, studying the players past and present and I wanted to see who was dominant in their era and who laid the groundwork for kids like myself … and Wilt obviously was a big staple of that.”

James put on a passing masterclass in his showdown against the Joker, who is hailed for his passing as much as any player in the league.

LeBron James finished with 27 points (12-of-19 FG), 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, marking his second triple-double of the season and his 23rd consecutive game putting up at least 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists to open the season — surpassing his own record from 2011-12.

He also tied one of his assistant coaches, Hall of Famer Jason Kidd, for the most triple-doubles after the age of 35, with eight.

Additionally, he eclipsed 25 points for his 800th game, an NBA record.

The Lakers played significantly looser and harder in the second half, outscoring Denver 68-35. Afterward, Anthony Davis credited heated halftime remarks from head coach Frank Vogel with lighting a fire under the team.

“Coach jumped on us a little bit, about our energy and our pace,” Lakers big Anthony Davis said. “Energy on the defensive end, pace on the offensive end. He got after us, and it was right that he did that, and it was well-deserved. … Coach talked to us … and we went on a 37-17 run in the third.”

AD finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and two blocks, and worked with Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell to limit Jokic to 13 points (6-of-16 FG).

The Lakers got major boosts from Dennis Schröder (21 points), Kyle Kuzma (11/3/3/2/2), and 20-year Talen Horton-Tucker, who tied a career-high with 17 points on an array of impressive finished around the rim. All three contributed a slew of hustle plays that helped energize the squad, resulting in a 15-0 run to close out the third quarter.

Vogel didn’t deny Davis’ recounting of his halftime pep talk.

“Yeah it was more like a lotta bit than a little bit,” he acknowledged. “I was very unhappy with how we played and our energy in the first half. … Quite frankly, we just weren’t playing hard enough.”

Before those remarks, James’ history-making performance prompted an atypical statement of praise from his coach before he took questions.

“I just want to start by congratulating LeBron on a career milestone and becoming third all-time in field goals made, passing one hell of a name in Wilt Chamberlain,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “And doing it on a night when he has a triple-double and helps us beat a Western Conference contender. … Just a hell of a performance tonight.”

The Lakers also set a franchise record for the largest in-game turnaround.

In his pregame media session, Vogel was more diplomatic than LeBron James about the All-Star game, noting the financial hit the league as endured due to COVID-19. He expressed skepticism about the plan, though.

“Yeah, it would have been difficult to have to go in this climate,” Vogel said about potentially coaching in the exhibition. “We’re in the mindset to do what’s good in the health of the league. We took a big hit to our business with this pandemic and everybody’s trying to play their part and do the best they can. So, if the league feels it’s something that’s in the best interest of the league, we’ll do it … but it would certainly be hard to commit to … in the current climate.”

NBAPA President Chris Paul reportedly wants to use the event to raise money for Historically Black Colleges and Universities — a noble cause that the league could do without a gathering in Georgia, which reported over 5,800 new COVID-19 cases statewide on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Sacramento Kings guard D’Aaron Fox — who may earn his first career All-Star nod — ripped the decision, too.

“I’m going to be brutally honest, I think it’s stupid,” Fox said, via Jason Jones of The Athletic. “If we have to wear masks and do all this for a regular game, what’s the point of bringing the All-Star Game back?”

Nobody’s comments can move the needle in NBA circles like James, so we’ll see if his condemnation throws a wrench into the plans. LeBron knows how much weight his words carry, and he seemed aware of the gravity of his remarks as he made them.

For his sake, I hope Adam Silver put his phone on silent if he hit the pillow by the time LeBron James voiced his opinion at roughly 1:30 a.m. ET.

If not, he’s definitely awake now.