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LeBron James criticizes NBA for rash of injuries after early start date: ‘I knew exactly what would happen’

LeBron James is one of the most influential players in the history of basketball. When the NBA and its players were deciding whether or not to restart the 2019-20 season during the COVID-19 pandemic, Patrick Beverley famously said that “If @KingJames said he hooping. We all hooping.” James is a former NBPA vice president. He is the league’s most famous player, and for over a decade, has been its best. What he says often goes. 

But in the 2020 offseason, the entire basketball world defied LeBron’s wishes. The Los Angeles Lakers were coming off a grueling championship run in the Orlando bubble that ended on Oct. 11, and with the NBA planning to start the season on Dec. 22, his team would have only 71 days off between winning the title and starting their defense of it. James didn’t publicly lobby against the decision, but seemingly did so privately. The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that LeBron was one of several stars against the idea, and two of his then-teammates, Danny Green and Jared Dudley, hinted that he might miss time as a result. 

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The decision to soldier on anyway wasn’t strictly the league’s call. The NBPA had to sign off as well. But money talks. Starting before Christmas was critical financially to both sides. So all parties involved agreed to start the season early, and now, we’re seeing the cost of that decision. 

All seven remaining teams in the playoff field have at least one significant absence due to either injury or COVID-19 protocols right now. Many of the teams that have already been knocked out, including three of last season’s conference finalists that had the shortest offseason of them all, also dealt with major injuries. The Lakers lost Anthony Davis. The Nuggets lost Jamal Murray. The Celtics lost Jaylen Brown. The story of this season will forever be the injuries that ruined it, and on a Twitter thread Wednesday, James was very forthcoming: He told them this would happen.

“They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season. I knew exactly what would happen. I only wanted to protect the well being of the players which ultimately is the PRODUCT & BENEFIT of OUR GAME! These injuries isn’t just “PART OF THE GAME”. It’s the lack of PURE RIM REST rest before starting back up. 8, possibly 9 ALL-STARS has missed Playoff games(most in league history). This is the best time of the year for our league and fans but missing a ton of our fav players. It’s insane. If there’s one person that know about the body and how it works all year round it’s ME! I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year. Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”

James later acknowledged the financial stakes of the decision, but stood by his position. The long-range implications of starting the season early are not yet fully known. Several of the injuries players suffered this season will extend into next season, such as Murray’s torn ACL. Other players who make it far enough this season or who play in the Olympics this summer in Tokyo will have shortened offseasons as well, potentially putting them at heightened risk of injury next season. The balance of power in the NBA might have been altered for years to come because the wrong player got hurt unnecessarily. 

But basketball is a business, and the league bet that its overall brand means more than the players who comprise it. That might make sense in football, but basketball is far more star-driven. Fans aren’t going to be nearly as interested in the final rounds of the postseason if every team is missing key players and the best teams are perceived not to be in the hunt. Fans want to see superstars, and all of these injuries are keeping them off the court when it matters most. Whether now or in the future, that is a problem the NBA is going to have to reckon with. It has to find a way to ensure that its best players are on the floor for its biggest games. Rushing out a season like this had the opposite effect.