The Los Angeles Lakers were almost struck with disaster after LeBron James violated the NBA’s health and safety protocols by attending a May 19, 2021, launch party for Lobos tequila, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported. There was speculation that LeBron would miss significant play time before being cleared, but the NBA decided to let it slide and didn’t hit LeBron with any penalty.
Now, some people are questioning a perceived double standard, as other players have missed on-court time or had to pay hefty fines after violating the same health and safety protocols.
On May 25, the NBA announced a $50,000 fine against Dallas Mavericks forward Kristaps Porzingis, who visited a strip club following his team’s Game 1 win, Bleacher Report said. Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter was fined $50,000 in April after visiting a Miami strip club, the Associated Press reported.
Former Lakers big man Kwame Brown called out the NBA’s perceived hypocrisy, bringing up Lou Williams, who had to miss time during the bubble last season because he went to a strip club.
“Why do you get to go party and Lou Williams gotta go sit out and get suspended?” Brown asked LeBron in a video posted to Twitter. “And then the media kick his draws in his a**. But you sir, you sir, you seem to be above the rules. Wonder why that is?”
The situations are different in significant ways. Williams went to an indoor strip club, while the event that LeBron attended was outdoors. When Williams violated the league’s policy, vaccinations weren’t readily available yet. LeBron hasn’t publicly revealed if he’s vaccinated, but that could play a role in why the NBA didn’t make him sit out. McMenamin’s ESPN report says attendees at the Lobos tequila party had to show either proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative COVID test in order to attend the event.
ALL the latest Los Angeles Lakers news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Lakers newsletter here!
Executive Questions NBA’s Decision
Brown wasn’t the only person frustrated with the NBA’s decision to not punish LeBron. An anonymous Eastern Conference executive has called out the NBA for letting it slide.
“It’s a given that LeBron, because of who he is, is going to get some things to go his way that don’t go that way for others,” the executive told Bleacher Report recently. “The thing that I struggle with understanding is the whole point of having all these health protocols is to keep players safe, right? Why are there layers to this? If you spell out the rules and the players violate them, why would you (then) risk exposing them to their teammates?”
Without all the facts, it’s fair to question whether or not the league is putting other players at risk by not making LeBron sit out. That said, the NBA could be privy to information that hasn’t been revealed to the general public. The league has defended its decisions, explaining that it considers each rules violation on a case-by-case basis.
“While we understand the inclination to compare this incident to protocol violations by other players, including LeBron James, those facts are very different,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement, according to Bleacher Report. “LeBron briefly attended an outdoor event related to an individual commercial activity where everyone was either required to be vaccinated or return a negative COVID test. The league reviews each potential protocol violation on a case-by-case basis, and determines quarantines and imposes discipline based on the individual facts and circumstances of each matter.”
Team Official Believes NBA Is Creating Confusion
Another issue facing the NBA is that the decision to not punish LeBron could be sending a conflicting message to the rest of the league.
“The NBA is trying to have it both ways,” an Eastern Conference front-office official told Bleacher Report. “They are taking this [coronavirus] seriously; they have from the jump. But they want the players to not feel too restricted by the rules. What you wind up doing, you create more confusion to a process that’s already kind of confusing because everything changes so quickly when it comes to what you can do and what you can’t.”
LeBron hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19 since the event, so it appears the NBA is in the clear. But as A. Sherrod Blakely wrote on Bleacher Report, the league’s problems are not entirely solved.
“For now, the NBA must grapple with optics. There’s already a perception that punishments related to health and safety protocols are not equitable among superstar and non-superstar players,” Blakely said. “Because right now, the NBA is perceived as a league where stars are given preferential treatment on many levels, both on and off the court.”