The pre-season favorites and defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are out, with LeBron James and company succumbing in the first round of the playoffs to the Phoenix Suns. The Denver Nuggets and the Miami Heat are too – just to name a few of the contenders last season that made a fist of it in the race to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy in Orlando’s bubble. So, at the face of it, it would appear that a new era is upon us in the NBA. Rejoice!
Or is it? If it’s genuinely a new era and a time to rejoice then why are rumblings of upset and dissatisfaction bubbling to the surface?
LeBron James Slams NBA For Mounting Postseason Injuries
Against the NBA Odds, a new champion will emerge this season. Under normal circumstances nobody would be taking issue with a new champion emerging. In the spirit of competition, parity is great for the sport, for its development and progress. However, there’s a growing concern that the tipping of the competitive balance isn’t normal. Many believe it is directly tied to the alarming rash of injuries that have swept across the league. It has taken out numerous players, including some of the league’s most recognizable starlets. This appears not to be an example of widespread improvement from season to season.
Indeed, some players are sounding the alarm for what is appears to be a serious crisis unfolding right before our eyes. And according to those, the league has a lot to answer for. Players feel they were given unjustified expectations during an unprecedented year that was disrupted by a global public health crisis. The crisis wreaked havoc on the NBA schedule.
Injury Bug Runs Rampant
Just about every second round series in the NBA playoffs was hindered by one injury or another. Kawhi Leonard was ruled out of Los Angeles Clippers’ Game 5 with the Utah Jazz. He joined a stream of hobbled players exiting the court this postseason.
Leonards’s absence marks the eighth All-Star player to miss postseason action. That is a record in the league’s history. The list of names to have been side lined includes Anthony Davis, James Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Jaylen Brown and Joel Embiid. Chris Paul also joined the list of wounded as he’s under the league’s health and safety protocol.
To say this isn’t a good look for the NBA is an understatement to end all understatements. But Lakers’ frontman LeBron James isn’t surprised. He claims he saw this very thing coming. James warned the league during the offseason about it’s ill-advised plan to launch the 2020-21 NBA season merely 71 days after the delayed conclusion of the previous season.
LeBron James Calls Out League
LeBron James took issue with the league’s quick turnaround right from the start. When asked about in December as players were showing up for training camps, LeBron said quite honestly he was shocked.
“Just being completely honest, I wasn’t expecting that because early conversations were going on. I was hearing that there would be kind of a mid-January start and training camp would kind of start after Christmas.”
James recently recalled his misgivings on social media. He slammed the NBA for their lack of consideration for player health and safety.
“They all didn’t wanna listen to me about the start of the season,” tweeted LeBron James. “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.”
“I speak for the health of all our players and I hate to see this many injuries this time of the year,” added LeBron James in a subsequent tweet. “Sorry fans wish you guys were seeing all your fav guys right now.”
The NBA Fires Back
The NBA responded to LeBron’s tweets with a statement from NBA spokesperson Mike Bass. In the statement, Bass claims “Injury rates were virtually the same this season as they were during the 2019-20 season while starter-level and All-Star players missed games due to injury at similar rates as the last three seasons. While injuries are an unfortunate reality of our game, we recognize the enormous sacrifices NBA players and teams have made to play through this pandemic.”
The Lakers, who were had to play-into the playoffs only to be eliminated in the first round, won the 2020 championship on October, 11, 2020. The 2020-21 NBA season began just 71 days later on December, 22, 2020, which marked the shortest offseason for any sports league in North America.
James himself played with an injured ankle during the playoffs. It was an injury he suffered earlier in the season and due to which he missed a good chunk of the regular season. Teammate Anthony Davis also missed a chunk of the regular season due to injury. He briefly returned to play in the playoffs before succumbing to injury once again.