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LeBron backs off 'no play' threat over fan-free games

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Los Angeles (AFP)

LeBron James on Tuesday backtracked from a threat not to play if the NBA decides to force teams to stage games behind closed doors as the league grapples with the coronavirus threat.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers star said he would refuse to play if the league bars fans from venues as part of efforts to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"We play games without the fans? Nah, that's impossible," James said.

"I ain't playing if I ain't got the fans in the crowd. That's who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans.

"That's what it's all about. So if I show up to an arena and there ain't no fans in there, I ain't playing. They can do what they want to do."

However on Tuesday, James softened his position, saying he would do whatever authorities recommended to curb exposure to the virus.

"When I was asked the question, I had no idea it was actually a conversation going on behind closed doors about the virus," James said.

"Obviously I would be very disappointed not having the fans because that's what I play for -- I play for my family, I play for my fans," he added.

"But at the same time you gotta listen to the people that's keeping a track of what's going on and if they feel that's what's best for the safety of the players, the safety of the franchise, the safety of the league, to mandate that, then we're going to listen to them."

Other players in the NBA have been lukewarm about the possibility of playing in empty arenas.

"If there's no fans, they might as well drive up here and let's play in the practice facility," Portland Trail Blazers star point guard Damian Lillard told The Oregonian newspaper.

On Monday, the NBA announced it was joining Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball in a new policy to restrict access to team locker rooms.

As of Tuesday, members of the media are no longer allowed to enter team locker rooms to speak to players after games or practice.

The US has recorded at least 28 deaths from the coronavirus and 804 confirmed cases, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.

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