LeBron James says he won't play in empty arenas as NBA mulls over a virus strategy
LOS ANGELES, March 7 (AFP): Basketball superstar LeBron James said on Friday that he won't play if his Los Angeles Lakers have to hold games behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The NBA has reportedly told teams to look into strategies on how to play without fans in the arena amid concerns over the spreading virus.
"Nah. It's impossible," James said after the Lakers' 113-102 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
"If I show up to the arena and there ain't no fans in the crowd, then I ain't playing."
The league sent a memo to each team on Friday asking them to develop contingency plans to combat the spread of the virus. One of the alternatives is playing games behind closed doors.
"I ain't never played the game without no fans," James said. "Ever since I started. This ain't Europe.
"I play for my teammates and I play for the fans. That's what it is all about."
James and Anthony Davis scored all but one of the Lakers' points in the final quarter Friday as they rallied to beat the NBA-leading Bucks and clinch their first playoff spot since 2013.
As fears grow over the spread of the virus, and sports leagues formulate contingency plans, the NBA's Friday memo told teams to start "developing" plans on how to play games with only "essential staff" in attendance, American broadcasters reported.
The NBA had sent out a previous memo to teams earlier this week, recommending players to use fist-bumps instead of high-fives with fans. It also said to avoid taking items such as pens, balls and jerseys from fans to sign.
"The health and safety of our employees, teams, players and fans is paramount," the NBA said in a statement on Monday.
The NBA said it has been taking advice from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We are coordinating with our teams and consulting with the CDC and infectious disease specialists on the coronavirus and continue to monitor the situation closely."
The global spread of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the international sporting calendar with Formula One motor racing, golf and athletics among the sports canceling or postponing events.
In Italy, the hardest-hit European country with 148 deaths from the novel coronavirus, all major sports events, including football matches, will be played behind closed doors until April 3. Six Nations rugby games in Italy have been postponed.
Davis Cup tennis ties in Italy and Japan are being played behind closed doors this weekend.
The World Health Organisation has called the spread of the virus "deeply concerning" as a wave of countries reported their first cases of the disease - which has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations and territories.