The moment was a difficult one, for player and journalist alike. LeBron James had just polished off a dominant Game 2 performance against the Pacers, leaving no doubt that he would be the subject of a postgame sideline interview.
Complicating matters, though, was the fact that news about the death of Erin Popovich, wife of Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, was just breaking around the NBA. That information had been largely unknown to the men who had been busy with first-round playoff games.
TNT sideline reporter Allie LaForce soon asked James about the death of Erin Popovich, a question that many on social media found intrusive and inappropriate. James, though, did not.
Later Wednesday night, after having been “made aware” by friends that “a lot of people feel like I was blindsided” by the question, James recorded a response to the outcry. He confirmed that LaForce had asked before the interview if it would be okay to talk about Erin Popovich’s death, and called the idea that he was blindsided by the question “absolutely false.”
“Once I started talking about it, once we were on air,” James said as he was being drive home from the game, “actually my emotions just kind of took over, and that was just my emotions coming straight from my heart about the late Erin Popovich.”
James has become the face of the league, a spokesman for matters both on and off the court. His shock at the Popovich news was evident, and his emotions seemed genuine.
“I know that’s devastating news … holy s—,” James said in the TNT interview. “It’s just a lot. The NBA family, we stick together. I know we compete every night, but something like this happens, and it just puts everything in perspective. … I know the man above never makes a mistake, even when sometimes you have to ask why, but that’s just terrible news, and my best of luck to Pop and everyone in San Antonio and the whole Spurs family.”
In his postgame video, he told social media users that LaForce had “followed proper protocol” and had “warned me.”
“Get off her back, man,” James said. “She’s very professional and she does a great job at her work.”
Many viewers had been stunned — and angered — by the TNT interview, in which James appeared to be learning of Erin Popovich’s death on live television.
As many noted, James responded to the question gracefully. He expressed his “love” for Popovich, called the news “devastating” and told LaForce, “The NBA family, we stick together. I know we compete every night, but something like this happens, and it just puts everything in perspective.”
If James handled the moment well, many thought the same could not be said of TNT. The network’s tweeted clip of the interview was met with a torrent of critical replies, while more than a few looked for LaForce’s most recent tweet, which was unrelated, and used it to express their displeasure with her.
Some defended TNT and LaForce, pointing out that if she didn’t ask James about Erin Popovich’s death, someone else in the media surely would have soon after, in the postgame news conference.
“Allie is working for TNT and on-court was when TNT was going to get its questions in to LeBron, not the presser. Producer might have been in her ear telling her to ask,” Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports wrote on Twitter, adding that it was a “difficult spot” that James handled “with consummate class.”
Calling it a “legit” question, veteran sports-media journalist Richard Deitsch said that LaForce “asked it directly and with compassion.” In his opinion, “Both people were pros here.”
At halftime of the Timberwolves-Rockets game, which followed the Cavs-Pacers content, “NBA on TNT” host Ernie Johnson said that LaForce had asked James if he wanted to comment on Erin Popovich, and that the Cleveland star had agreed to do so.
Because James wasn’t completely blindsided some questioned, fairly or not, the sincerity of his on-camera response.
There was less cynicism about the reaction of Kevin Durant, who was told by reporters of the tragic news while at a practice earlier in the day with his Warriors, who are in the midst of a playoff series against the Spurs. The Golden State forward was shown on video to be taken aback at the news and struggling to form an eloquent response.
ESPN’s Chris Haynes was among the reporters who posted video of Durant, but he subsequently took it down, possibly because he had gotten many negative reactions.
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