Stephen A. Smith Says LeBron James Has Too Much Influence on a Controversial NBA Issue: ‘Our Voice as Fans Matter Even More Than LeBron’s’

Over the years, LeBron James has had a tremendous impact on the NBA. He has not only been the premier star in the league for nearly two decades, but he has also inspired an entirely new generation of hoopers, as many young players dominating the game today grew up watching him.

However, does the Los Angeles Lakers superstar actually have too much influence on a controversial issue in the NBA? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith seems to think so, as he believes James shouldn’t have the amount of input he does when it comes to the NBA Play-In Tournament, which he and the Lakers played in last season.

Adam Silver spoke to LeBron James about the NBA Play-In Tournament

With LeBron James and Anthony Davis both being inactive for long stretches of last season, the Lakers fell in the standings and had to participate in the NBA Play-In Tournament. They then matched up against James’ old rival, the Golden State Warriors.

If you need a refresher, the NBA introduced the play-in tournament in 2019-20 following the league’s hiatus due to COVID-19. It seemed like the best way to give every team in the running for the No. 7 and 8 seeds a chance to make the playoffs.

However, the league brought it back in 2020-21, as the No. 7 and 8 seeds from each conference played each other while the No. 9 and 10 seeds participated in the other games. The winners of the seven-eight matchups clinched spots in the playoffs, while the losers then played the winners of the nine-ten contests. The teams that won the final two games between the seven-eight losers and nine-ten winners then clinched the last remaining spots in the postseason.

Since James and Davis’ injuries led to the Lakers dropping in the standings and then participating in the play-in tourney — where they ultimately won over the Warriors before losing to the Phoenix Suns in the first round — The King at one point discussed the new wrinkle to the playoffs.

He wasn’t high on it, either.

“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” he said, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver, though, recently said he spoke to James about the tournament.

“We talked about it,” Silver recently said to TMZ Sports, as the league plans to use the format again in 2021-22. “I think at the end of the day, I understand. Especially if you went deep last year and you have that many sort of games on your legs. You’re not looking forward to more games. But I think he understands the context of the league.”

Stephen A. Smith thinks LeBron James has too much influence on the issue

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and NBA superstar LeBron James.
(L-R) Stephen A. Smith and LeBron James. | Kevin Mazur/Getty Images; Andy Lyons/Getty Images

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and his First Take co-stars recently discussed Silver’s comments, and Smith received the question on if LeBron James should have as much influence as he does when it comes to the NBA Play-In Tournament.

“No, not a damn bit of it,” Smith said on the Aug. 17 episode. “Not on this issue. This is the elder statesman of the league; he’s the iconic brand in the NBA. … But that’s separate and aside from this issue. The play-in tournament is about what it takes to appeal to the fans. LeBron James is a basketball player. He’s the man, but he’s one player.”

He continued: “It (the play-in tournament) was definitely a plus for the National Basketball Association. There is evidence that shows it was a plus. … If you’re just asking him about an idea that has never happened, then his say should be definitely significant, no doubt. But when there is evidence that has already been provided that shows it’s in the best interest of the league, there’s nothing to talk about here. We have spoken, and our voice as fans matter even more than LeBron’s in this particular situation.”

So, Smith clearly thinks it’s too late for James to give his thoughts on the issue. But no matter what you think of James’ influence on the subject, his opinion of it has been proven wrong, as the play-in tourney was good for the NBA.

The NBA Play-In Tournament was a hit in 2020-21

While some players were maybe not too high on the play-in tournament, the fans certainly were.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the matchup between the Lakers and Warriors had an average of 5.619 million viewers, which was the most for an NBA game on ESPN since the Western Conference finals in 2019.

The games themselves weren’t too bad, either. The Lakers-Warriors matchup went down to the wire, as James and LA won 103-100. The nine-ten Western Conference contest between the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs was also a competitive game, as Memphis won 100-96. The Grizzlies then barely beat the Warriors, 117-112, a couple of nights later.

LeBron James may not like the NBA Play-In Tournament, but with the ratings it had — and the outcomes of the games — it’s likely here to stay.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com

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