It should’ve been an evening of celebration for the Los Angeles Lakers and, in particular, LeBron James.
But following the Lakers’ victory in which James passed NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain in the history books, the 36-year-old had other things on his mind.
The league’s decision to host an All-Star Game – where fans vote to select the league’s best players who play in a one-off spectacle – in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has surprised many players.
James called the announcement of the game a “slap in the face” for himself and his fellow competitors.
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“I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year,” he told the media after the Lakers’ 114-93 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. “I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game.”
“Short offseason for myself and my teammates. It was 71 days. And then coming into this season, we were told that we were not having an All-Star Game, so we’d have a nice little break.
“Five days (in March) from the fifth through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season – my teammates as well, some of the guys in the league. And then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face.”
Although historically the All-Star Game has been an Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference affair, in recent years, the highest voted for players are selected as captains for the two teams and those two captains pick their teams in a draft format.
The league released the first round of this year’s voting earlier on Thursday, with Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and James leading the way. Durant led all players with 2,302,705 votes, slightly ahead of James’ 2,288,676.
And while James, who has played in the All-Star Game in 16 of his previous 17 seasons, said that he will physically be there if he is selected, mentally he won’t be committed.
“We’re also still dealing with a pandemic,” James – who was named a captain for the past three seasons – said. “We’re still dealing with everything that’s been going on, and we’re going to bring the whole league into one city that’s open? Obviously, the pandemic has absolutely nothing to do with it at this point when it comes to that weekend.”
The Lakers’ win is their third in a row and leaves them with a record of 17-6.
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Passing a legend
While James’ postgame comments about the All-Star Game caught all the headlines, it was his consistency on the court that took him past another NBA legend in the history books.
In the first quarter of the Lakers’ win against the Nuggets on Thursday, the four-time NBA champion moved up to third all-time in field goals made.
He passed NBA Hall-of-Famer Chamberlain’s 12,681 in the rankings. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leader with 15,837, and Karl Malone, with 13,528, stand above him.
Having surpassed another legend in the history books – something that almost seems like a weekly occurrence for James – he admitted that while the number 12,681 doesn’t “do much for him,” being associated with a legend such as Chamberlain put him in a reflective mood.
“That does something for me because I’m a guy who grew up reading about the game, studying the game, studying the players post, past and present,” he told the media afterwards.
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“And I wanted to see who was dominant in their era or who laid the groundwork for young kids like myself who started to play the game when I was nine years old. And Wilt obviously was a big staple of that.
“Defenses have definitely been trying to stop me from putting the ball in the basket throughout my career and I’ve been able to, for the majority, find buckets and have my name linked to one of the greatest to have played the game of basketball. It’s very humbling. It always gets me thinking about my upbringing growing up in Akron, Ohio.”