LeBron James’ stray elbow has sparked a firestorm in the US as fans and pundits debate who was to blame as suspensions were handed down.
America has erupted after LeBron James’ stray elbow caught Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart and sparked extraordinary scenes on Monday.
The third-quarter incident in the Pistons-Lakers game came after James appeared to elbow Stewart in the face from a contested rebound after a free throw attempt, leaving the Pistons star fuming and bleeding from the eye.
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Stewart went to ground then charged at James, sparking an all-in melee as players from both sides tried to get between the pair.
A seething Stewart was escorted away by security and teammates, but broke free of their clutches and made a second charge at James before he was again stopped short of reaching the Lakers star.
Ultimately both men were thrown out of the game — LeBron for just the second time in his career — while LA’s Russell Westbrook also copped a technical foul for his role in the melee.
On Tuesday (Australian time), the NBA handed down suspensions, giving James a one-match suspension without pay and Stewart two games. It’s the first time James has been suspended in an NBA career that’s lasted nearly 20 years.
It means both men will be back for the next match between the teams, scheduled to take place next Monday (AU).
‘Pack your s***’: Ex-NBA star fires up
Retired three-time NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas had zero doubt what should happen, throwing all the blame at the feet of Stewart and suggesting Detroit would trade the 20-year-old.
“Pack all S***, pack yo winter jackets and boots becuz yo a** is about to be traded to (Budapest) somewhere,” Arenas wrote in a lengthy message on social media.
Arenas added “BUT u can’t charge at the #KING like that on tv”, adding Stewart would be drug tested “just to make sure that rage ain’t drug related”.
He said James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were all untouchable when it comes to starting scraps in the NBA and finished by saying “this was worst than the gun in the locker room situation. Some can say this was #attemptedmurder”.
The “gun in the locker” was Arenas’ own incident, where he was suspended for the remainder of the 2009-10 season for bringing unloaded firearms into the locker room after an argument with then teammate Jarvis Crittenden.
While the NBA has yet to make a decision on what, if any, suspensions will be handed out for the fracas, fans are calling for James to be banned.
But others believed James could get off only copping a fine, after it was revealed the 37-year-old tried to get in contact with Stewart after the game.
“I’m told LeBron James did try to track down Isaiah Stewart’s number post-game to apologise again and let him know it was an inadvertent hit,” The Athletic’s Sham Charania said.
Fox Sports host Chris Broussard argued it wasn’t in James’ game to be dirty and expected only a fine.
“I can see why someone would say the elbow was intentional, but LeBron, in 19 years, has never been viewed as a dirty player,” he said.
LeBron accused of ‘dirty’ play
US sportscaster Skip Bayless unloaded on James for his “dirty” play.
“LeBron James closed his fist! And he looked at that man right in the face before leading with his elbow and then cold-cocking Isaiah with his forearm and the back of his fist! LeBron should be suspended,” Bayless said on Undisputed.
“If it’s not dirty, why did the refs take one quick look at it and throw LeBron out with a flagrant 2 (foul)? How can a flagrant 2 NOT be dirty.
“I still don’t get how that’s not dirty because it is dirty. The referees confirmed quickly, dirty play.”
Speaking on The Dan Patrick Show, broadcaster Dan Patrick said while James did show remorse in the immediate aftermath, “he still did it”.
He said James’ swinging arm was intentional to push Stewart off, but didn’t believe a suspension was necessary. Patrick instead pinned Stewart with plenty of blame.
“The person I would come down on harder is Isaiah Stewart,” he said. “LeBron, if you want to suspend him then suspend him. But Stewart, what he did, he tried to escalate this and he went at LeBron a couple times and then tried to go behind in the bowels of the stadium to get to LeBron and get to the Lakers.
“I’d sit him down for at least three games because you can’t have that. This is not the 70s NBA. This is multi-billion dollar companies. You can’t have that.
“And I would make sure Stewart knows while you did get bloody, we will punish LeBron, but you can’t do what you did and therefore I’d put him down for at least three games, if not five games.”
Similarly, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said James started the biff, but Stewart took it way too far.
“He’s gotta be suspended,” Smith said on ESPN’s First Take on Monday. “I totally agree with (Lakers star) Anthony Davis from the standpoint, he does not have a reputation as a dirty player, that’s not who LeBron James is. But that doesn’t mean that the play wasn’t dirty. You swung your elbow. And because you swung your elbow and it caused that kind of damage, that’s what sparked the incident.
“I don’t know much about Isaiah Stewart, respect his talent. When he initially went up to LeBron James, he didn’t go up like that. But how he acted thereafter, I think he deserves to be suspended for multiple games.
“You cannot, you cannot act like that. He ran over numerous players, numerous coaches. I’m not talking about having to restrain him. He bulldozed over several dudes, including coaches who are obviously older men.
“He could have done harm to his teammates. We know he didn’t intend to do that. But because of the Malice at the Palace, look at what that caused. You had the league more stringent with rules and regulations. Rules have been extremely excessive to prevent anything close to that from happening.
“He looked completely out of control. And then after that he storms into the locker room.”
However, Smith’s co-host Jay Williams argued James’ act was worse.
“LeBron James should be suspended two games for that,” he said. “When you box out, you always get low, the fact that his elbow was high and he raked down with a closed fist, that’s a suspension in my opinion.
“I’m OK with Isaiah being suspended, but he can’t be suspended the same amount of games LeBron James is suspended. The fact that it caused a scene, it was initiated by LeBron in that moment and created the whole scenario for that to occur.”