In his illustrious 15-year NBA career, there was one thing LeBron James had never done: get ejected from a game.
Until Tuesday night.
LeBron just got ejected for the first time in his career… pic.twitter.com/EFVTv3nMbc
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 29, 2017
With two minutes to play in the third quarter of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Tuesday night matchup against the Miami Heat at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, James drove to the basket looking for a layup that would increase the Cavs’ commanding 23-point lead over his visiting former team. Heat defender James Johnson bodied him up as he drove, and James took the contact, leaned back and lofted a runner that came up empty.
After Miami center Hassan Whiteside pulled down the rebound and the Heat began heading up on offense, James made a beeline over to referee Kane Fitzgerald to complain about not getting a foul call on the play. Evidently, Fitzgerald didn’t appreciate the way the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player registered his discontent, because he quickly hit James with a technical and then gave him the gate, marking the first time in a professional career that has spanned 1,298 regular- and postseason games over the last decade and a half that LeBron James was forced to hit the showers before the final buzzer.
LeBron's first ejection. Kane Fitzgerald becomes the answer to a trivia question.
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) November 29, 2017
LeBron James played 1,081 career regular-season games prior to being ejected tonight.
The only active players who have played more games without being ejected are Tony Parker (1,144) and Pau Gasol (1,139)
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 29, 2017
LeBron finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, five steals, a block and two turnovers in 29 minutes of work, leaving things well in hand as he took his leave. The Cavs barely needed to break a sweat late, thanks to a season-high 75 points in the first two quarters that overwhelmed the Heat and sent Cleveland on the way to a 108-97 win that was, for all intents and purposes, over before halftime. Kevin Love scored 32 of his game-high 38 before intermission for the Cavs, who have now won nine straight to improve to 14-7 on the season.
It wasn’t immediately clear what, exactly, James did to earn such a quick heave-ho. It wasn’t an automatic ejection for getting a second technical foul, since James hadn’t been T’d up earlier in the evening, and it didn’t look as if LeBron made contact with Fitzgerald as he went to plead his case.
Perhaps LeBron — who was clearly quite heated as he made his way over to Fitzgerald — used some exceptionally magic words very quickly. Perhaps Fitzgerald was a little quick to show him the door.
After the game, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was definitely not going to tell reporters what he thought about it:
"Yup. He shoulda got thrown out!"
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 29, 2017
James, for his part, told reporters after the game that the frustration he shared with Fitzgerald was the same kind he’s shared many times over the years: that, for as many calls as he might get, there are many more he believes he should that he doesn’t.
LeBron says he was fouled all the way up the floor and at the rim, and let Fitzgerald know about it. He’s extremely frustrated about the lack of free throws he gets while there are jump shooters getting to the line more.
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) November 29, 2017
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 29, 2017
“I got fouled and showed my frustration to the ref, and he sent me to the locker room,” James told reporters after the game. “That particular play, I got fouled all the way up the court, from the time that I stripped [James Johnson] all the way until I got to the rim. So, that’s what it was about. I said what I had to say and I moved on, but he decided I should get two [technicals]. It is what it is. We got the win, and that’s what’s most important.”
Referees don’t typically answer questions after a game, but the NBA made Fitzgerald available to a pool reporter so we could get the explanation straight from his mouth:
Pool report with referee Kane Fitzgerald, who ejected LeBron tonight for the first time in his career pic.twitter.com/Ohy5bdEyAw
— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydNBA) November 29, 2017
“It was a culmination of a couple different acts,” Fitzgerald said. “Immediately after the no-call, he turned and threw an air punch directly at me and then he aggressively charged at me and used vulgarity in my ear a few times.”
So there you have it, sports fans: when in doubt, don’t throw an air punch.
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