LeBron James returns to the court on Wednesday after serving the first suspension of his career. The Los Angeles Lakers forward drew blood on Sunday while boxing out Detroit Pistons forward Isaiah Stewart. What some thought at first was an elbow, really turned out to be a fist that James sent into Stewart’s eyebrow.
NBA on TNT’s Reggie Miller made an interesting point about the video. He said that if you look closely James wasn’t intentionally trying to hit Stewart in the face. Stewart was getting a little too much into James during that box out. James wanted to get position, but also wanted to send a quick message with a blow.
The problem is that Stewart bent extremely low trying to get underneath James for position and where his shoulder or chest might be, turned out to be where his head was. With James being as strong as he, a blow like that meant for Stewart upper body ended up causing the type of gash that a headbutt might in a boxing ring. It required eight stitches to close the wound.
J.J. Redick knows all too well what it’s like to end up on the wrong side of James’ power. He told a story on his Old Man and the Three podcast about a time that he took a charge from James.
In Redick’s fifth NBA season, the 6-foot-5 guard timed James’ spin perfectly once on defense. He knew it was coming and, while admittedly scared, he stood there and took the charge from the 6-foot-8, 260 pound James in his athletic prime, because that is precisely what the Orlando Magic were paying their three-point specialist to do, take his life into his own hands on the court. That routine basketball play gave Redick 11 stitches under his eye.
James is a powerful man. It’s part of the reason that he is one of the best players in the history of the game, we just don’t always think about it because his physicality is merely a part of his game, as opposed to the most important skill he brings to the table. He’s not Charles Oakley, Dale Davis, prime Udonis Haslem, or even Kevon Looney on the court. His job isn’t to use those giant shoulders primarily for punishing screens and box outs. He uses them to get position to score 25 plus points per game and attract the defense so he can make great passes.
That doesn’t mean his body is only a lethal scoring and passing machine. It can be used the same way that Oakley, Davis, Haslem, and Looney use theirs. James decided to big body forward the young Stewart and, unfortunately, the young man got caught by James’ body the same way that Redick did. It happens sometimes.
This isn’t to excuse James, because his goal in that moment was not simply to get Stewart’s arms off of him, but to get Stewart away from him. It just turned into a Bam Bam moment where his strength got away from him (yes, The Flintstones is a musty cartoon reference and I stand by it.)
The Pistons and Lakers play again on Sunday at what for now is still called Staples Center. Hopefully the game is smooth and clean, but if the referees get comfortable in the second half maybe there will be a spot for Stewart to show that he too can forget his own strength, just hopefully he won’t draw blood.