Lakers' James plays down row with spectators in win over Hawks

·2 min read
NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Atlanta Hawks

(Reuters) - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James said he was happy fans are back at some NBA games amid the COVID-19 pandemic despite a bizarre altercation with supporters that led to four of them being ejected from Monday's game at Atlanta Hawks.

The NBA superstar became involved in a row with a male spectator during the fourth quarter of their 107-99 win at the State Farm Arena - which is among a handful of venues allowing fans this season - before a woman began targeting the player.

The woman, who was escorted out by security personnel along with three others, posted an expletive-laden video on social media explaining the dispute started only after James had exchanged words with her husband.

"At the end of the day, I'm happy fans are back in the building. I miss that interaction ... we as players need that interaction. I don't feel like it was warranted to be kicked out," James told reporters.

"There was a back-and-forth between two grown men ... He said his piece, I said my piece. Then someone else jumped into it and said their piece.

"I didn't think they should have been kicked out. But they might have had a couple of drinks, maybe and they could have probably kept it going. It wouldn't have been about the game anymore ... The referees did what they had to do."

While James played down the incident, Lakers coach Frank Vogel was less than pleased with the fiery exchange after videos emerged on social media showing the woman with her mask hanging off her chin during the row.

"It certainly exposed something with regard to having fans in the pandemic," Vogel said. "You obviously can't have fans taking their masks down and shouting at our players with the virus out there during these times."

James has been a fierce critic of former President Donald Trump, and has spoken out against racial inequality after the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed last year after being seen lying face down in the street while a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Robert Birsel)