When LeBron James was sidelined with a groin injury, the narrative around his team’s performance changed. Suddenly they were no longer “the greatest players on earth” but instead “a bunch of selfish stat-padding kids.” In reality, it turns out that Cleveland has been one of the most disciplined teams in basketball this season and their starting lineup is still very good despite losing a star.
LeBron James’ injury update on the ESPN website has destroyed the selfish, stat-padding narrative. Read more in detail here: lebron james injury update espn.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ season did not go according to plan, to say the least. Russell Westbrook struggled to establish his footing in Hollywood, Anthony Davis missed significant time due to injury, and LeBron James battled chronic issues. As you can anticipate, the result sparked a flurry of reactions, many of which targeted King James personally.
James’ “stat-padding” was the subject of one of those stories. As the Lakers’ chances of making the playoffs dwindled, some in the media began to believe that LeBron’s spectacular individual season was nothing more than a selfish effort to save the season. He could at least show how excellent he was as an individual if he couldn’t win a championship.
However, if the star’s latest statements are any indication, that narrative has been shattered.
LeBron James said he didn’t think about participating in the last few games of the season.
Due to his ankle ailment, LeBron claimed he would not contemplate returning to play simply to qualify for the scoring championship. He would have played if he had been healthy.
“I’m not out there to win a scoring championship by playing meaningless games.”
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) April 11, 2022
As the season drew to a close, the biggest storyline for the Lakers was LeBron James’ pursuit of the scoring championship. While some speculated that he would play through his ankle injury to cement his place in history, he did not return to the lineup, handing Joel Embiid the title.
That seemed startling from distance. Pro athletes are well-known competitors who are recognized for pushing through agony to fuel their inner fire. James’ absence, though, seems to make sense based on his statements from Monday, April 11.
“There’s no surgery required, no injections, but I’m going to have to stay off [the injured ankle] for 4-6 weeks to let it recover,” he explained, according to Lakers beat reporter Mike Trudell.
The greedy, stat-padding narrative received a last blow from James.
“Due to his ankle injury, LeBron indicated he would not contemplate returning to play merely to qualify for the scoring championship.” “I’m not out there just to be playing pointless games to win the scoring title,” Trudell said in another tweet, quoting James: “I’m not out there just to be playing meaningless games to win the scoring championship.”
The whole stat-padding story is tainted by that comment.
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesLeBron James sits on the Lakers bench.
While you can find countless tweets accusing LeBron James of padding his stats, let’s zoom in on one particular instance. In late February, Skip Bayless fired the following message: “LeBron James, in Year 19, has already played 36 minutes tonight but is still in the game, trailing by 22 with 5:08 left, to stat-pad with easy garbage-time buckets as he chases Kareem’s all-time scoring record.”
According to the box score, James played 36 minutes in a 123-95 defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans, scoring 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting. While you may argue that he shouldn’t have remained in the game, examine the arguments on the other side.
Assume James sits on the bench while the Lakers get thrashed. It’s reasonable to suppose that if he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, he’d be chastised for leaving his teammates waiting. The Lakers’ second-leading scorer scored 16 points that night. Do you honestly believe LeBron would have gotten away with it if he had sat on the bench for 15 minutes and watched his team lose by 40 points?
That leads us back to James’ statements about not playing just for the sake of winning a scoring championship. While his comments should be enough to put such narratives to rest, you might argue that he’s just playing the public relations game. I’d recommend a different interpretation via that perspective.
Regardless of your feelings towards the NBA veteran, he is well-versed in the facts of the game. James has been in the public eye since he was a youngster, and he understands how stories develop and where his detractors will hone their blades. It would be the ultimate selfish decision to put his long-term health at risk for a (comparatively) worthless scoring championship. It’s not like this would have moved him closer to Michael Jordan in any significant way. It would have only resulted in a 10-2 score.
Imagine the reaction on social media if he won the scoring championship only to be forced to retire due to a major ankle injury. Twitter’s servers would most likely overheat in a matter of minutes.
You might also argue that the forward has enough basketball perspective to attach value to individual achievements. It’s revealing that he dubbed the games “meaningless.” We’ve all seen young players go all-in to create an impression on the league. James has progressed beyond that stage. At the risk of penetrating his mind, he presumably knows that losing out on a scoring title is less painful than risking his championship hopes.
That isn’t to imply that LeBron James is a flawless player. There are several faults, both major and little, that you may point out. However, inflating stats during the 2021-22 campaign was most likely not one of them.
ESPN provided the statistics.
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