After the Cleveland Cavaliers won last night to level their series against the Pacers at one game apiece, TNT reporter Allie LaForce asked LeBron James about the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin Popovich, which had been reported earlier in the night. From James’s reaction, it seemed that it was the first time he was hearing the news.
It made for awkward and uncomfortable TV, and there came a swift backlash against LaForce and TNT from viewers who were upset about LeBron seemingly being caught off guard with terrible news on national TV.
In a video posted to Twitter after the game, James clarified that he wasn’t blindsided by the question, and that LaForce had asked for permission to ask him about Popovich before the interview. To the critics accusing LaForce of using grief over Popovich’s death for broadcast fodder, James said, “get off her back.”
After offering his condolences again to the Popovich family, James said, “Also, guys, please get off Allie LaForce’s back because she followed the proper protocol and she warned me... She’s very professional and she does a great job at her work.”
James’s reaction to the news was relevant, and LaForce was doing her job in asking him about it. Athletes, especially LeBron James, speak about a whole range of topics besides sports, and asking him about Popovich’s wife wasn’t unfair or exploitative on its face. The griminess of it came in the framing—trying to make it seem like they were breaking the news of Popovich’s death to James on live TV for his raw and emotional reaction.
The solution would have been for LaForce to have been more transparent. She could have prefaced her question to James with a clarification such as, “As we talked about just moments ago...” before asking for his thoughts.