LeBron won’t power down phone during playoffs

  • Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
  • Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.

The NBA is doing its best to replicate the game experience that players are accustomed to — even blaring Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” over the public address system when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Washington Wizards in a scrimmage when they were designated the home team in Orlando, Florida.

However, there is no denying things are different during the league restart. And with all the upheaval that has occurred, LeBron James is changing a postseason ritual of his own.

The Lakers star said Tuesday that he is doing away with his self-imposed social media blackout for the playoffs, something he refers to as “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode, playing off the movie title.

“It’s definitely going to have a different mindset, different feel to it,” James said on a video conference call when asked about his approach to the Lakers’ upcoming challenge. “I won’t be turning my phone off during this run. I can’t afford to. I have to continue to check in with my family every single day.”

In past years, James would curtail the time he spent on Twitter and Instagram in April through June to sharpen his focus. But during those playoff runs, he had the balance of playing home and away, flying back from road arenas to spend time with his wife, Savannah; mother, Gloria; and three children, Bronny, Bryce and Zhuri.

James specifically cited his mom as someone he will “check in” with.

“Making sure everything is still going well, especially in the uncertainty of what 2020 has brought to all of us,” he said. “So I can’t afford to do that, just lose direct contact with everybody.”

When asked if he’d ever been away from his family for this long — James and the Lakers could be in Orlando for 3½ months during the coronavirus pandemic, should they make the Finals — he said the only comparable experience was playing for USA Basketball in the Olympics. But the Olympics obligation was “probably like 30-some days,” he said.

Social media has already provided James a way to keep up with his family since going to the bubble. Recently, his wife shared a video to her Instagram story of Bryce, 13, cracking up Bronny, 15, with an impression of their dad. It made James laugh, too, and he shared it on his Instagram.

James said with virtual parenting, “There’s nothing that you can do to replicate time, presence,” but the phone does help in staying connected.

“The communication can always be consistent and the leadership can always be consistent, and that’s one thing I’ve always had control over,” he said. “But you can’t replicate actual presence when you’re waking up and you’re in the living room or you’re in the kitchen, or you’re outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys. You can’t replicate that. I’m not there.

“But Savannah is a beast at what she does: That’s controlling the home and being that rock for our family. So I’m not worried about that. But you definitely, you have that miss factor when you miss your family, you miss your kids and things of that nature. But I thank Steve Jobs a lot and the team at Apple for having FaceTime, because that is a beautiful thing to have, especially during a time like this.”

Shutting down social media for “Zero Dark Thirty-23” this year would also mean abandoning his platform at a time when James and his NBA brethren have been acting as spokespeople for social change. Thirteen of the past 27 Instagram posts James has shared with his 69 million-plus followers were geared toward social justice issues.

Perhaps a shift in direction is wise, anyway. Last season, the Lakers were 28-29 coming out of the All-Star break when James said his playoff mode had already been “activated” in late February. L.A. went 9-16 from there and James missed the postseason for the first time since 2005.

James’ newest Lakers teammate, JR Smith, who played with the four-time MVP in Cleveland, said that James’ shift in postseason persona is a bit of a misnomer, anyway.

“Honestly, he’s the same person, bro,” Smith said on the latest episode of the “Inside the Green Room with Danny Green” podcast. “I’m not going to lie to you. He will start reading more, though. He’ll start reading more. He’ll get off social media and he’ll read. He will do that. But other than that, he’s the same person.”

No matter his methods in Orlando, James vowed to be prepared for what’s ahead.

“I’ll be as locked in as I can be under the circumstances,” he said. “I won’t cheat my teammates, I won’t cheat our fans and I won’t cheat myself. I’ll be ready to go.”

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