With a little more than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 107-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena, James exchanged words with Chris and Juliana Carlos. During the exchange, Juliana Carlos pulled down her face mask to shout at James. The referees then huddled with arena security, who escorted the fans away from the court.
In a series of profanity-laced videos posted Monday to her Instagram account, Juliana Carlos said she was shouting at James to defend her husband, whom she described as a Hawks fan who has “been watching the games for 10 years” and “has this issue with LeBron.” She went on to say she was “minding my own business” when James and Chris Carlos shouted at each other, leading to a second exchange between James and Juliana Carlos.
“All of a sudden, I’m getting kicked out,” Juliana Carlos said. “Excuse me, I have courtside seats that I pay for. F--- you, LeBron. ... You’re going to let a 25-year-old girl intimidate you during a game?”
Juliana Carlos apologized on social media on Tuesday night for her outburst.
“To say things escalated quickly at [Monday’s] game is an understatement and I want to apologize for losing my cool and removing my mask in the heat of the moment,” she wrote. “My husband is a huge sports fan and we’re passionate people and let’s be real: sports wouldn’t be sports without a little trash-talking. What should have been a quick back-and-forth between two adults got out of hand and my natural instinct to stand up for the man I love kicked in. Did I get defensive when that happened? Yes. Did I use offensive language when I could have taken the higher road? Yes. And for these things I take full responsibility.”
Courtside video taken by Juliana Carlos and others showed that James used the words, “ol’ steroid a--” during the incident, according to the Athletic. After finishing with 21 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, James brushed off the exchange, calling the initial conversation “a back-and-forth between two grown men.”
“At the end of the day, I’m happy fans are back in the building,” he said. “I miss that interaction. I need that interaction. We, as players, need that interaction. I don’t feel it was warranted to be kicked out. ... The referees did what they had to do.”
Later, James tweeted: “Courtside Karen was MAD MAD!!”
James elaborated and said he didn’t believe the incident warranted ejection of the fans.
“He said his piece, I said my piece. And then somebody else jumped into it and said their piece, but I didn’t think they should have been kicked out,” he said. “But they might have had a couple drinks maybe. And they could have probably kept it going during the game, and the game wouldn’t have been about the game no more. So I think the referees did what they had to do. And I mean, it’s fine.
“I don’t think, taking down the masks or whatever the case may be at that point in time would’ve harmed anybody but the people that were right next to her. I wasn’t close enough to her. I don’t think any of my teammates were close enough to them. I think a couple of the refs maybe, so I hope they’re okay, but, you know, safety first.”
Medical experts believe the coronavirus spreads more quickly indoors and when people are speaking in proximity without face coverings. Though NBA players aren’t required to wear masks while playing, the league’s tightened health protocols require players to wear masks while on the bench and to strictly limit their interactions with the general public while at home and on road trips. James said he believed he and his teammates maintained an appropriate social distance from the fans during the argument.
“You obviously can’t have fans taking off their masks and shouting at our players during these times,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said.
The Hawks are one of a handful of teams allowing limited fan attendance. On Jan. 26, the Hawks announced they would open State Farm Arena seating to 1,300 season ticket holders, or 8 percent of capacity. As part of the arena’s safety protocols, fans are required to wear face coverings and maintain physical distancing, and the building has been equipped with “increased cleaning and sanitization procedures” such as “touchless restrooms and hand sanitizer stations.”
“We are employing elevated health and safety protocols as well as leveraging the vast industry expertise of Emory Healthcare so that we are ready for a gradual and safe return of fans to our home games,” Hawks executive Andrew Saltzman said in a statement.