NEW YORK — The NBA wants its teams to prepare to play games without fans if necessary because of the coronavirus crisis, but LeBron James says he won’t play basketball in an empty arena.

The league circulated a memo to its teams Friday telling them to prepare in case it becomes necessary to play games without fans or media, as sports leagues in Europe have already done. The memo detailed potential actions that teams might need to take “if it were to become necessary to play a game with only essential staff present.”

But when James was asked about that possibility after he scored 37 points in his Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-103 win over the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night, the NBA’s leading active scorer was definitive.

“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.”

The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, says teams should identify which team and arena people would be necessary to conduct games, and be able to communicate quickly with nonessential staff, as well as ticket holders and corporate partners.

THE NBA, NHL, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball are having discussions about whether to restrict access to locker rooms as a precaution to protect players from exposure to the coronavirus, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.


The changes would not eliminate media interviews with players before and after games but would simply move them to a different location, possibly a news conference setting. The changes would be designed to limit locker-room access solely to players and essential team personnel, which in theory would allow teams to know if anyone in those areas has been tested for illness.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY: The world championships in Canada were canceled Saturday because of public health concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The two-week tournament was set to open March 31, with venues in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia.

Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said in a statement there has been “not enough of an improvement to the coronavirus situation to allow us to safely host a 10-team international tournament within this time frame.”

Fasel told The Associated Press the decision was made by conference call. He noted the concerns over the health of players and fans attending the tournament as well as the difficulties in making travel plans for some nations, in particular, Japan, where almost all sports events and large gatherings have been canceled.

“It’s scary,” he said.


Hockey Canada said holding the event in empty arenas with no fans was not an option the IIHF considered. Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said abandoning the tournament was determined to be “the best course of action,” and made under the recommendation of Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer and the IIHF.

“It goes without saying there is a great deal of disappointment with this decision,” Renney said on a media conference call. “We fully support the decision rendered by the IIHF. We have spoken to the players who are now aware of the circumstances, and I’m sure you can appreciate their disappointment.”

Scott Smith, Hockey Canada’s president and chief operating officer, said the deliberation began after a request from the Japanese national team to arrive early, and subsequent recommendations from Nova Scotia health officials not to hold the tournament were passed on to the IIHF. Renney said the IIHF has assured Hockey Canada that next year’s world championships will be in Nova Scotia.

Canada’s potential players were informed Saturday.

“I do think they were still very shocked and obviously extremely disappointed,” said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s national teams. “It’s been a very difficult and unique year for women’s hockey and certainly for our athletes. With that in mind, everyone understands the importance of health and safety and puts that as a priority.”

The women’s worlds were canceled once before – in Beijing in 2003 because of the SARS outbreak in China.

Fasel said the status of other international tournaments will be determined in the coming month, starting with the under-18 men’s championships in Michigan from April 16-26. The IIHF will wait until mid-April to determine whether to proceed with the men’s world championships set to open May 8 in Switzerland.

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