LeBron James, Lance Stephenson
NBAE/Getty Images

Stephenson, Pacers React to Lance-LeBron Storyline

by Wheat Hotchkiss | @Wheat_Hotchkiss

May 26, 2014

MIAMI – At this point in the Eastern Conference Finals, it seems that certain segments of the national media are grasping for storylines.

The Pacers and Heat have met 23 times since May 2012 and are in the midst of their third ultra-competitive series. Since Indiana finished off Washington on May 15 to setup another series with Miami, there have been seven off-days to just three games, the ideal formula for contrived media narratives.

Whether it’s looking for a fresh angle to a matchup that’s been played out many times already or simply seeking attention-grabbing headlines that will get more page views, the media feeding circus has created another mountain out of a molehill with its coverage of the brewing “feud” between Pacers guard Lance Stephenson and Heat forward LeBron James.

During the first half of Game 3 in Miami on Saturday night, Stephenson and James visibly exchanged words with each other on the court on multiple occasions.

At practice on Sunday, both James and Stephenson were asked about their extensive trash talk. While James declined to comment, telling the media “One thing I'm not going to do is give a story line of LeBron versus Stephenson,” Stephenson’s comments about James’ trash-talking made national headlines at outlets like ESPN, USA TODAY, and the Sun Sentinel.

Those comments in full, via the Associate Press: To me, I think it's a sign of weakness. (James) never used to say anything to me. I always used to be the one who said, 'I'm going to do something to get you mad.' Now he's trying to do it to me. So I feel like it's a weakness. I feel like I'm doing something right because I'm getting under his skin, but I've definitely got to keep stepping up to the plate and be more aggressive when he does that.”

Suddenly, national talking heads had a new “storyline” to promote. Outlets floated the idea that Stephenson’s comments might light a fire under James and questioned whether it was a good idea for the fourth-year guard to “call out” the four-time MVP.

At Monday’s shootaround prior to Game 4 at American Airlines Arena, Stephenson and the rest of the Pacers scoffed at the frenzy around his comments.

“It’s not about me and him,” Stephenson said. “It’s about our team and winning games.”

Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said he “had no reaction” to seeing the headlines about Stephenson’s comments. When asked what he thought his starting shooting guard “was trying to accomplish” with his comments, Vogel replied, “Nothing. Just probably answering questions.”

Vogel is probably right in that respect. Stephenson is an open book. While other members of the Pacers roster are more guarded when talking to the media, Stephenson typically talks candidly, but he isn’t the type of person to float comments through the media for some unclear ulterior motive.

James doesn’t talk to the media at shootaround, so any response from him won’t come until pregame media availability Monday night. But the Pacers appeared amused by the notion that Stephenson might have prodded a sleeping giant with his comments.

When Pacers forward David West was asked if Stephenson’s words might “create a monster out of LeBron,” he shot back, “You mean more than what he (already) is?”

Vogel concurred: “I don’t think LeBron and Dwyane Wade, I don’t think those guys are going to play harder than they’re already playing.”

While All-Star forward Paul George did say that he felt James draws fuel from opponents talking trash, he backed his teammate’s right to express his opinion.

“We don’t want to feel like we’re backing down from anything,” George said. “What Lance said is how he feels. “

For his part, Stephenson did seem to realize on Sunday that his comments on Saturday had been magnified in the media, but he didn’t back down from his stance.

“This is the playoffs,” Stephenson said. “We’re playing against the Heat and everything is in the spotlight. So I’ve got to be accountable for what I say and just get ready to prepare for the game.”

Stephenson also said that “talking junk” fuels his game because it puts more pressure on him to back up his words with his play, which gives him a greater focus and energy on the court.

Both West and George maintained that talking trash is part of Stephenson’s game and that they don’t expect or want him to shy away from it in light of the attention it has created.

“That’s Lance,” George said. “That’s him being from Brooklyn, being a New York guy, being a ballplayer, a street ballplayer. That’s what pumps him and gets him going. It’s different for different guys. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing. A lot of the greats in this league, that’s how they got going.”

Stephenson has no plans to shy away from James, but he knows that Game 4 will ultimately come down not to who wins the trash-talking battle, but which team executes better on the court.

“I’m up for any challenge,” Stephenson said. “I love when people challenge me and I like to bring the best out in people. So, I said (what I said) yesterday and it’s going to bring the best out in him. We’ve just got to get the win tonight.”

2014-15 Season Tickets »
Guarantee 2014 Playoff tickets with a deposit on 2014-15 Season Tickets