LeBron James went apoplectic Saturday night, going ballistic on refs for a controversial play that would have sent him to the free-throw line with a chance to win at the end of regulation. Instead, LeBron’s animated reaction went on to achieve viral status (as did Patrick Beverley’s subsequent technical, drawing the ire of referee Eric Lewis for swiping a reporter’s camera), producing one of the great meltdowns of the 2022-23 NBA season.
While James’ performative antics were summarily dismissed by critics, lamented as an embarrassing display of entitlement from a player who too often defaults to playing the victim, he wasn’t wrong in this instance, with replay showing he was clearly fouled by Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. James’ teammate Anthony Davis said he felt “cheated” by the game’s result (Boston would go on to win in overtime), an assessment apparently shared by NBA referees, who expressed their regret in an apologetic tweet sent Sunday afternoon.
While it’s nice to see the league show some accountability, taking ownership of a blown call that arguably cost Los Angeles the game, most will see it as too little too late, the basketball equivalent of slapping a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Though it probably didn’t come as much solace to James (whose bitterness and resentment were readily apparent after the game), fans at least found the mea culpa entertaining, surprised to see the NBA apologize so profusely for a mistake that gets made on a nightly basis, acknowledging the error of their ways with the heartfelt sincerity of a husband fighting to save his marriage.
James finished with 41 points in the losing effort, moving within 117 of the NBA’s all-time scoring mark held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Owners of the league’s best record at 36-15, Saturday’s win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Celtics, who were playing without injured big man Robert Williams and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart.
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