LeBron James says an argument between himself and fans during the Los Angeles Lakers’ 107-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks was “blown out of proportion” and they did not deserve to be ejected.
Two women heckled James after he had exchanged heated words with a man they were sat with and they were thrown out.
There were about 1,300 fans at at the Hawks’ State Farm Arena.
James said: “I’m happy fans are back. I need that interaction. I don’t feel like they deserved to be kicked out.”
Explaining what had gone on in the incident that caused the game to be paused in the fourth quarter, James added: “There was a back and forth between two grown men, he said his piece, I said my piece.
“And then someone else jumped in and said their piece. But I don’t think they should have been kicked out.
“They might have had a couple of drinks maybe. It’s fine. It kind of got blown out of proportion, fans in the stands, just feels better.”
One of the women had removed her face mask to shout at James, a move condemned by Lakers’ head coach Frank Vogel.
James scored 21 points, including the decisive final nine for his side, and added seven rebounds and nine assists in the win over the Hawks, with Anthony Davis top-scoring for the Lakers with 25.
It means the Lakers return to LA with a record of five wins and two defeats from their longest scheduled road trip of the NBA season, hot on the heels of the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz at the top of the Western Conference.
Elsewhere on Monday night, the Charlotte Hornets needed overtime to beat the Miami Heat, eventually recording a 129-121 win.
Reserve Malik Monk scored a career-high 36 points to help the Hornets, who had trailed by 10 points with fewer than three minutes remaining in normal time. Monk’s three-pointer with 17 seconds left forced overtime, which the Hornets then dominated.
The Cleveland Cavaliers edged past the Minnesota Timberwolves 100-98, while Devin Booker hit a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left to seal a 109-108 victory for the Phoenix Suns over the Dallas Mavericks.
Lauri Markkanen scored 30 points as the Chicago Bulls ran out 110-102 victors at home to the New York Knicks, while Jrue Holiday starred with 22 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals as the Milwaukee Bucks rolled to a 134-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
The visiting Sacramento Kings rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-109, while the Houston Rockets broke their franchise three-pointer record in a 136-106 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets’ previous best for the number of three-pointers made in a game was 27, which they set last season and was an NBA record before the Milwaukee Bucks made 29 earlier this campaign. The Rockets hit 28 against the Thunder with five coming from Eric Gordon.
Meanwhile, nine Memphis Grizzlies players scored in double figures as they eased past the San Antonio Spurs 133-102, recording a season-high points total for the second successive game.