EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — LeBron James said he initially felt “skepticism” regarding the COVID-19 vaccine but ultimately decided to get it for the well-being of himself, his family and his team.
“You’re always trying to figure out ways that you can just be available and protect one another and put yourself in the best possible chance where you are available to your teammates, available to what we need to do on the floor,” James said Tuesday as the Los Angeles Lakers hosted media day at their practice facility.
“The ultimate goal is to obviously win a championship. And it starts with, obviously, health as the No. 1 thing. We’re excited to know that we’ve given ourselves another opportunity to be available to each other, and that’s what it came down to.”
Lakers president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said last week that he expected his entire roster to be deemed fully vaccinated by opening night of the regular season in mid-October.
L.A.’s star big man, Anthony Davis, said he believed that Pelinka’s goal had already been met by the group.
“If I’m not mistaken, I think everyone on the team is vaccinated — or almost everyone,” Davis said. “So, I think that’s the main focus for us, making sure that our organization is doing everything we can to help the world, help the community and do our part.”
Despite the team’s commitment to the vaccine, James wasn’t the only Lakers player to question it. And while James didn’t feel like it was his role to become an advocate after overcoming his previous doubts — saying that he didn’t feel like he should “get involved in what other people should do for their bodies or their livelihoods” — free-agent signee Kent Bazemore said Pelinka offered a persuasive perspective.
“When the vaccine first came out, I felt like it was kind of forced on me, and I’m not a person who responds well to that, and it just kind of put this shell around me,” Bazemore said. “But I had a good call with Rob Pelinka, and he laid it down to me in the most fairly honest way that I ever heard. … To be on a roster with so many greats, especially during my era, it would be a hard opportunity to pass up.”
Bazemore credited the Lakers for hearing out his concerns and providing space to come to a decision on his own. He said he received his first dose of the vaccine over the weekend and that he is scheduled to receive the second in a couple of weeks.
Dwight Howard, who previously questioned the efficacy of vaccines in a video posted to his Instagram account, called the issue a “private” matter when asked about it Tuesday as he began his third stint with the franchise.
“I’m sorry. I can’t do it,” Howard said when asked about his vaccination status. “I have a lot of opinions, but not on camera. I have nothing to say.”
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said that his players’ collective decision to get vaccinated could end up not only being a health and safety measure but also a competitive advantage, as some teams around the league — including another championship favorite in the Brooklyn Nets — still have unvaccinated players.
“It’s huge,” Vogel said as the Lakers welcomed reporters into their building for the first time in nearly 18 months because of the coronavirus pandemic. “Obviously, you want to be able to not be compromised in any way with an extended absence or quarantines or exposure to quarantines. They were costly last year to our group. Not every team in the league this year has that luxury, but we do.
“We feel like there were a lot of conversations and education to get that done along the way, and I’m super proud of our guys for making that commitment, and hopefully we don’t have some of those disruptions like we did last year.”
Beyond navigating the pandemic, the Lakers didn’t have health on their side last season. James missed 27 games, mostly due to a high right ankle sprain, and Davis missed 36 because of pain in his Achilles tendon, knee and groin.
James and Davis both reported marked improvement after a full offseason.
“I’m back to 100 percent, as far as my ankle. I feel great heading into camp,” James told ESPN. “I’m super excited to get back on the floor and know the work that I’ve put in with my body and my game. And I’ll translate it to the court.”
Davis, who vowed to put his body to the test by spending more time at the center position this season, echoed James’ confidence.
“I feel good,” Davis told ESPN. “I had a great offseason of training. Got back to my normal offseason routine with the strength trainer. So, I feel 100 percent healthy and ready to go.”