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Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James confirmed for the first time that he has received a COVID-19 vaccination during his team's media day availability on Tuesday, putting to rest any lingering questions.
James said he was "very skeptical" about the vaccines when they were first released, conducted his own research and decided it was "the right thing to do" for himself and the health of his family. Asked if he felt compelled to be a public advocate for vaccination against coronavirus, James said, "That's not my job."
“I think everyone has their own choice to do what they feel is right for themselves and their family," he said.
James evaded the direct question in May about whether he was vaccinated and how it might impact his availability for the playoffs last season, merely offering, "That's all family talk," and, "It's not a big deal."
The questions came on the heels of James violating the NBA's healthy and safety protocols by attending a promotional event for a tequila brand, alongside entertainers Drake and Michael B. Jordan, on May 21. The league ultimately determined James' violation did not rise to the level of a suspension or even a quarantine.
"To clarify any remaining misconception, LeBron James briefly attended an outdoor event last week where participants were required to be vaccinated or return a negative test result," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement on May 24. "Under these circumstances and in consultation with medical experts, it was determined that his attendance did not create risks related to the spread of COVID-19 and therefore no quarantine was necessary. Over the course of this season, there have been numerous similar violations of the league's health and safety protocols, which were addressed with the player's team in similar fashion.
"Under current NBA rules, vaccinated players are permitted to engage in outside activities including their individual commercial arrangements, such as sponsor appearances or ad shoots."
That language led many to believe James was among the 10-15% of players who are not vaccinated. Former Lakers guard Dennis Schroder told a German-language publication three weeks earlier he and James were the only Lakers yet to be vaccinated. When Schroder returned from a two-week bout with COVID on May 15, he told reporters, "I'm the only guy who didn't get vaccinated," adding to the confusion.
However, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters on Thursday that he anticipates his team will be fully vaccinated before the regular-season opener against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 19.
Asked how important it was for the team to be fully vaccinated, James told reporters on Tuesday, "At the end of the day, you’re always trying to figure out ways to always be available and protect one another."
Speaking shortly after James, Lakers coach Frank Vogel echoed that statement.
"It's huge," said Vogel, citing several "costly" COVID-related absences for the Lakers during last season's disappointing encore to their 2020 NBA championship run. "Not every team in the league this year has that luxury, but we do. There were a lot of conversations along the way, and I'm super proud of our guys."
In Saturday's bombshell report on an anti-vaccination contingent in the NBA players' union, Rolling Stone reported "the league continues to have difficulty convincing current superstars to advocate for vaccines," although "league officials could still ask LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo to appear in a PSA.
The players' union has rejected the NBA's proposal for a vaccine mandate.
"We're talking about individuals' bodies," said James. "We're not talking about something that's political or racism or police brutality or things of that nature. We're talking about people's bodies and well-being, so I don't think that I should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies and their livelihoods. ...
"I know what I did for me and my family," he added. "I know what some of my friends did for their families, but as far as speaking for everybody and their individuality and things they want to do, that's not my job."
Retired Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took the opposing view in his email to Rolling Stone.
"They are failing to live up to the responsibilities that come with celebrity. Athletes are under no obligation to be spokespersons for the government, but this is a matter of public health," said Abdul-Jabbar, who took part in the NBA's first vaccination PSA in January. "By not encouraging their people to get the vaccine, they’re contributing to these deaths. I’m also concerned about how this perpetuates the stereotype of dumb jocks who are unable to look at verified scientific evidence and reach a rational conclusion.”
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