After this first game back since being suspended by the NBA because of a blow he delivered to the face of Detroit Pistons’ center Isaiah Stewart as the two fought for a rebound, Lakers superstar LeBron James addressed the incident. (James and Stewart were ejected from the contest on Sunday and James later received a one-game suspension, Stewart two games.)
“I think it warranted an ejection because of what [might have] happened after that,” said James tonight. “You know, with me still in the game and excitement from the fans and what could possibly happen after that, obviously, but a suspension, I didn’t think it was warranted.”
The incident became the talk of sports radio and fodder for an entire news cycle on ESPN, with the network’s biggest star, Stephen A. Smith, creating his own whirlwind with comments about James. The suspension also removed the NBA’s marquee star from a nationally-televised matchup on TNT Tuesday night between the Lakers and the New York Knicks, the premiere teams in the nation’s two biggest television markets.
Describing the incident with Stewart from his point of view, James said that he was “off balance a little bit, and his elbow lifted my arm…and I basically tried to swing down on him, on his arm. And when I swing down on his arm, he got off balance and the side of my hand, you know, grazed his face.”
“I knew right away I had caught some part of his head, so I went over to apologize to him and, obviously, you guys see what happened after that.”
The Lakers star said the blow was “definitely accidental…Just like Sabonis’ play tonight.”
That was a reference to Indiana Pacers center Domantas Sabonis, whom James spent much of Wednesday evening banging bodies with under the basket. As he spoke, James made his point about Sabonis with a gesture toward a butterfly bandage on a cut above his own right eye: “accidental hit to the eye.”
“I’m definitely not that type of player,” he continued. “I hate to see that and whatever happened after that.”
“Whatever happened after that” was a melee in which a furious Stewart tried repeatedly to force his way through the refs, teammates and coaches trying to restrain him and get at James.
Players from both benches soon became involved, alternately trying to quell the conflict and engage in it.