“Skin in the Game” is a column by Joe Skinner about L.A. basketball.
In the two weeks since this column was last published, Lakers forward LeBron James has been busy — even by his own standards.
First, the Lakers got blown out by the Celtics in Boston on Nov. 19.
Then, James was ejected from a Nov. 21 game in Detroit for swiping at the face of Isaiah Stewart as the two jockied for rebound positioning. James’ left hand opened a bloody wound near Stewart’s left eye and incited one of the more violent scenes in NBA history as the 20-year-old Piston knocked over his own team’s personnel in an attempt to get to James.
That same incident got James suspended from the following game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, much to the chagrin of NBA fans and TNT who selected the game for a national television spot. Unless the Lakers and Knicks meet in the NBA Finals, James missed his only chance to play in MSG this season.
The following day, James returned to action as the Lakers took on Indiana. His incredible shooting performance in overtime of that game resulted in his first iconic “silencer” celebration in a Lakers uniform.
The silencer display came just minutes after James insisted that two fans be removed from the Gainbridge Fieldhouse for allegedly saying they hoped his son, Bronny, “dies in a car wreck.”
“There’s a difference from cheering for your team and not wanting the other team to win and things I would never say to a fan and they shouldn’t say to me,” James said of the hecklers.
He also broke out what some are calling a “Sam Cassell celebration” in reference to the former player who is known for his, how shall I say, suggestive dance. The NBA subsequently fined James $15,000 for making an “obscene gesture.”
In the following contest this past Friday, the Lakers and Kings battled into triple overtime as Sacramento’s youth won out over the experienced L.A. roster. James played over 49 minutes in that game.
The Lakers then faced Detroit, once again, on Sunday. The recency of the Isaiah Stewart incident led many to wonder if there might be another altercation, but — apart from pregame comments from each player about whether the swipe to the face was intentional — it was a standard, peaceful game.
“I watched the film and … I didn’t feel like it was an accident,” Stewart said of the incident.
“The actual chop down was on purpose to get his arm off me, that part was on purpose, but the point of my hand hitting his face was not on purpose,” James responded in reference to Stewart’s comments.
Finally, James missed the Lakers’ rematch with Sacramento on Tuesday due to the NBA’s coronavirus protocols. It’s unclear whether he tested positive or inconclusive or was directly exposed to another person who tested positive, but it resulted in his 12th missed game of the season.
If James has tested positive, hopefully he is able to overcome the illness with relative ease, not only because his team could use his presence on the court, but for his own sake. Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers has proven that NBA players — despite excellent physical fitness and access to premier doctors and medicine — are not immune to significant health challenges as a result of contracting the virus.
Anyone who follows LeBron James knows that he is a constant focus within the world of sports media, sometimes superfluously. That said, his last 14 days have been truly remarkable. From an ejection to a suspension to a silencer celebration, and much more, LeBron James has been busy.
“Skin in the Game” typically runs Wednesdays.