Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James is not a fan of the play-in tournament but his old comments about the postseason are recirculating which seems to contradict his current stance. During a 2020 interview on the Road Trippin’ podcast, James pushed for the idea of a play-in tournament for the teams fighting to make the postseason.
“So, we got Portland, we got Memphis, you got New Orleans that’s kind of [tinkering] and Sacramento tinkering around there,” James noted in March 2020. “If there’s five or ten games left, why not [let] those guys battle it out? How bout just make them play each other all five games or all ten games? If [you’re] going to make the playoffs, why not play against the team in front of you or behind you to see who makes it?”
For a bit of context, the interview was conducted just two weeks after the NBA paused the season as a result of COVID-19. James was discussing potential options for when the season resumes with Allie Clifton, Channing Frye, and Richard Jefferson. It is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison to this season, but at the time, James was asked specifically about the idea of a play-in tournament. Months later, the NBA would officially introduce the concept in the NBA bubble at Disney’s Wide World of Sports.
“That too, I mean there’s been so many conversations that’s been tinkering around,” James responded. “I have not been on the calls, it’s just my mind thinking and talking. There could be a three-team play-in. Listen, there’s five games left in the regular season. Let those four teams play each other. and then whoever got the best record out of that, maybe the final two teams [that] have the best record play each other for a game off to make the eighth seed.”
LeBron Recently Blasted the Play-in Tournament
Fast forward to this season, James opted to blast the play-in tournament after the Lakers’ May 2nd blowout loss to the Raptors. It feels a bit convenient for James to criticize the concept given the Lakers are in danger of being forced to compete for a playoff spot.
“Well, it doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, if I’m not 100%, close to 100%, it don’t matter where we land,” James explained in his postgame press conference. “That’s my mindset. If we end up at six or fifth or whatever the case may be, or we end up in the playoff, whatever that thing is. Whoever came up with that s— need to be fired.”
LeBron Called the Idea of the Play-in Tournament ‘Wack’ in 2018
Despite his comments on the Road Trippin’ podcast, as CBS Sports’ Jack Maloney points out, James was initially against the idea of a play-in tournament when the proposal came up in 2018. James emphasized he was against the idea of a team with a worse record than its opponent being able to make the postseason through a play-in tournament.
“That’s wack,” James responded at the time, per USA Today. “You’ve got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny.”
We have also seen the Mavericks be critical of the play-in tournament. As The New York Times’ Marc Stein observed, both the Lakers and Mavericks happen to be in danger of being in the tournament.
“We didn’t hear Dallas complain about it until the Mavericks were seventh in the West, which was poor form, and the same holds true now with the Lakers: It rings hollow to protest only when your team is suddenly at risk of having to play the play-in round,” Stein tweeted.