ORLANDO (Florida) • The Los Angeles Lakers are now just one victory away from sealing the top seeding in the ultra-tough Western Conference ahead of the National Basketball Association (NBA) play-offs later this month.
But, after a triumphant return to the court on Thursday, more than four months after the league was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic, LeBron James sought to bring the attention back to the civil strife affecting the United States.
Speaking after the Lakers beat the Los Angeles Clippers 103-101 behind closed doors at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World, he said: "The game of basketball has always been bigger than just the ball and the rim and 10 guys on the floor.
"It's an opportunity to use this platform to be able to spread a lot of positive, a lot of love, throughout the whole world. We understand what is going on in society right now, and we're using this NBA platform as the players, as the coaches, as organisations to continue to stand strong on that."
Asked if the league can make a difference amid the widespread anti-racism movement that has been going on since the death of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, he added: "There's been progress.
"But in the past, when we've seen progress, we've let our foot of the gas a little bit. We can't do that.
"We are dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality... not only with black people but with people of colour, and it's something that we want to continue to have people's ears open to."
The Lakers-Clippers match-up was the second of the first two games staged since the pandemic.
The Utah Jazz beat the New Orleans Pelicans 106-104 in the opener as China's state broadcaster CCTV maintained its blackout of NBA games.
All players, coaches and staff of the four teams, along with all officials "took a knee" and wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts in support of the movement while the national anthem was played.
While James will continue to take a stand for social justice for the rest of the season, it will not distract him from his aim of a fourth NBA championship and the Lakers' first since 2010.
FOR A WORTHY CAUSE
We are dealing with a lot of racism, a lot of social injustice, a lot of police brutality, not only in my neighbourhoods, not only with black people but with people of colour, and it's something that we want to continue to have people's ears open to.
LEBRON JAMES, LA Lakers star, on the NBA being a platform to fight racism, violence and inequality in the US.
The forward, who followed up his own miss to make the winning shot with 12.8 seconds left, recording 16 points in total, told ESPN: "We're two teams... fighting for one common goal. That's to win a championship and bring it to the city of Los Angeles and fan base."
Both teams showed rust - the Clippers committed 22 turnovers compared to 16 for the Lakers. The Lakers prevailed, despite shooting 39 per cent from the floor to 43.2 per cent for the Clippers.
Paul George had 30 points for the Clippers (44-21), but he missed a three-point attempt at the final horn. Kawhi Leonard finished with 28 points.
Although there will no longer be any home-court advantage given that the league is playing out the rest of the campaign in Orlando, according to The Athletic, the Lakers (50-14) will be given the best hotel at Disney World should they secure the top billing by beating champions Toronto Raptors today.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS