Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was found to be in breach of the NBA’s health and safety protocols this week, a league spokesperson told ESPN on Friday night.
James won’t be suspended, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, as the nature of the event didn’t rise to a threat level of virus spread.
James was one of several high-profile guests present at a promotional event for a tequila brand he backs earlier this week before the Lakers’ play-in game against the Golden State Warriors.
The tequila was poured at a brief outdoor photo shoot, and invitees, including recording artist Drake and actor Michael B. Jordan, had to produce proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result in order to attend.
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Even with those measures, James, who has declined to say whether he has received the COVID-19 vaccination, was found to be in violation of the league’s health and safety protocols.
“It’s a violation of the agreed upon protocols, and, as we have in other comparable instances around the league, it has been addressed with the team,” a league spokesman told ESPN on Friday.
According to league protocols, players who fail to comply with rules are subject to warnings, fines or suspensions. Players who repeatedly break the rules could be subject to more severe discipline.
James and the No. 7-seeded Lakers will play the Western Conference’s No. 2-seeded Phoenix Suns in Game 1 of their first-round series Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC).
Despite being the lower seed, L.A. is riding a six-game winning streak heading into the Suns series, with James back on the court for the past three victories after missing 26 of the Lakers’ 28 games prior to that because of a high right ankle sprain.
Several weeks ago, James explained his thought process behind sitting out additional games down the stretch, saying, “At the end of the day, if I’m not 100% or close to 100%, it don’t matter where we land [in the standings].”
With that reasoning in mind, James was asked by a reporter on Friday if the consequences that come with being placed in the league’s health and safety protocols during the playoffs — being unavailable to his teammates for potentially up to a 10-to-14-day stretch — affected his decision of whether to pursue the vaccine.
“Anything I do off the floor is predicated to my family, for the majority — for 99.9% of that,” James said. “So it’s about the health and safety of my family, and that’s what it came down to.
“Me being available to my teammates on the floor is me taking care of my body. Me doing everything I can do to make sure I’m available both mentally, physically and spiritually, as well. But anything of that nature, that’s all family talk.”
When the reporter followed up by asking James directly if he had received the vaccine, he replied, “It’s not a big deal,” chuckling briefly after giving his answer.
The vague response was consistent with what James said over All-Star Weekend when he was first asked about his plans for the vaccine.
“That’s a conversation my family and I will have,” he said in March. “I’ll keep that to a private thing.”
James’ teammate Dennis Schroder, who recently finished a 10-day stint in the health and safety protocols, told a German-language publication earlier this month that he and James were the only Lakers players who hadn’t received the vaccine.
Schroder later updated his vaccine roll call, telling reporters last weekend, “I’m the only guy that didn’t get vaccinated. I’ll just leave it at that.”
It would appear, however, that there is at least one other player on the Lakers besides Schroder who has not been vaccinated. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Friday that L.A.’s roster has not passed the 85% vaccination threshold the league requires — a minimum of 15 out of 17 players — for a team to have its health and safety restrictions lessened moving forward.
“We have not reached it yet, but we’re still hopeful,” Vogel said. “And I think there’s obvious benefits from the standpoint of us being able to do more things with each other in the cities that we’re going to. Something that’s been absent leaguewide in terms of team building and team bonding for all of us.
“It’s been a challenge. So if we’re able to reach that threshold then, obviously, we can do more.”
Satisfying the 85% threshold will allow fully vaccinated persons within a team more liberties, such as not being required to wear masks at the practice facility; being allowed to eat at indoor and outdoor restaurants, in line with local health protocols; being granted the flexibility to eat on flights and leave the team hotel on the road; having more convenient PCR testing times to choose from; and being allowed to have in-person gatherings — such as a group dinner — at someplace other than on the court or in a designated meeting room.
On Friday, the L.A. County Department of Public Health announced a partnership with the Lakers to incentivize vaccinations with the chance to win two Lakers season tickets for next season.
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