Before anyone freaks out — LeBron James is not going to abstain from professional basketball in the midst of the NBA Playoffs. That is not a reasonable expectation, and don’t think that. It’s bad enough just to ponder the idea because, even if you’re not a fan of the Heat or of LeBron, he’s still the best player on earth, and watching someone that good at anything is always rewarding. But, of course, the Donald Sterling episode is a ultimately more important than whether Miami can come away with a third championship in as many years.
As far as implications go, though, this is a big one. The NBA was so quick to lay the hammer down on Sterling because of the increased visibility of a title-contending Clippers team, the stardom of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and the undeniable nature of the phone calls. Unlike a court case, this was raw data confirming what most NBA fans knew for years — that Donald Sterling was, to put it mildly, an exceptionally unsavory person. The league tolerated him for so long because he was largely out of sight and mind for the average NBA fan. That was not the case in regards to the leaked phone calls.
In the teaser for tonight’s episode of Jim Rome on Showtime (which is Jim Rome’s television show on the Showtime network, to the surprise of no one), Roger Mason III, a former Heat wing and current NBA Player’s Association second in command, told Rome that LeBron “ain’t playing [next season] if Sterling is still the owner.”
Well, according to USA Today, the full quote from Mason is as follows: “if it’s not handled by … the start of next season, I don’t see how we’re playing basketball. I was just in the locker room with LeBron. At the end of the day, you know we have leaders, we have player reps, we’ve got executive committee members. … Leaders of the teams, they’re all saying the same thing: ‘If this man is still in place, we ain’t playing.’” And that’s significantly larger than just LeBron.
While James is the best player in the NBA, his true leverage in this situation has less to do with him avoiding the game as a singular entity as much as his status as the face of the players, who’ve got the best chance at effecting change by simply refusing to play basketball until Sterling is out. This puts the other twenty-nine owners in a very precarious position, because nothing loses them money faster than a league full of players who won’t perform.
LeBron’s next scheduled meeting with the media will be on Wednesday before Game 5 against the Nets — his social media platforms have been turned off for the postseason.