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LeBron James backtracks on refusal to play in empty NBA arenas over coronavirus

Lakers star LeBron James said he would “listen” if the NBA chose to play games without fans over coronavirus fears. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

LeBron James changed his public message on Tuesday, and said he will play if the NBA chooses to hold games in empty arenas amid coronavirus concerns.

James on Friday said he wouldn’t play if fans weren’t allowed to come watch games, something an NBA executive told The Washington Post was possible as covid-19 continues to spread.

“I play for the fans; that’s what it’s all about,” James said then. “If I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans there, I ain’t playing.”

But the Lakers’ star backtracked on those remarks on Tuesday, telling reporters that if the league decides to hold games in empty arenas, “We’ll all listen.”

Ivy League cancels basketball tournaments amid coronavirus concerns

“It’s funny because when I was asked the question, ‘Would you play without no fans?’ I had no idea that it was actually a conversation going on behind closed doors about that particular virus,” James said. “Obviously I would be very disappointed, you know, not having the fans because that’s what I play for. I play for my family. I play for my fans.

“They’re saying no one could actually come to the game if they go to that point, so I’d be disappointed in that, but at the same time, you got to listen to the people that are keeping track of what’s going on. If they feel that it’s best for the safety of the players, safety of the franchise, safety of the league to mandate that, then we’ll all listen to it.”

NBA players and coaches spoke to members of the press on Tuesday under new guidelines in place to halt the spread of the virus. While James, one of the NBA’s most accessible stars, usually conducts interviews from the center of a scrum, reporters asked questions Tuesday from behind a rope line six feet away, with cameras propped up behind them, according to ESPN.

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The NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS all adopted those media guidelines because of the virus. Journalists are temporarily restricted from interviewing athletes in teams’ locker rooms. Interviews are instead set to take place in news conference settings.

James joked to reporters that he felt “so much safer” with the press corps positioned further away.

“Listen, I have no idea what happened with — I miss you guys being right here — like right here in my bubble,” he said. “Very challenging to do an interview like this.”

The NBA is far from alone in grappling with the implications of the virus. The Ivy League on Tuesday canceled its men’s and women’s postseason basketball tournaments because of coronavirus concerns, while Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would ask for no spectators at indoor sporting events “other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game.” In California, Santa Clara County banned gatherings of 1,000 or more people for the rest of the month, a decision that could affect sporting events, while the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled its winter sports tournaments.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will probably challenge a key line of treatment for people with compromised immune systems — the drugs known as monoclonal antibodies.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

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