NEW YORK -- An advertisement featuring the NBA's two biggest superstars includes a gun reference, the same week two players were suspended for carrying firearms to the locker room.
The Nike ad, which appears in several publications including Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine, has LeBron James on one page and Kobe Bryant on the other. Along with the slogan, "Prepare For Combat," is a quote from each player showing how tough he is.
Bryant's blurb says: "I'll do whatever it takes to win games. I don't leave anything in the chamber."
The chamber in a gun is the compartment that holds the bullet before it is fired.
"The Nike print ad featuring Kobe Bryant was intended to illustrate his all out play and commitment on the basketball court," Nike said in a statement. "It is a commonly used reference for shooting the basketball and no offense was intended."
NBA commissioner David Stern is sensitive to the issue of gun violence, and the NBA criticized the ad.
"We had no prior notice of this ad," spokesman Tim Frank said. "We think it is inappropriate."
Bryant agreed with the league's stance on the advertisement.
"That ad was done months ago, prior to anything that came out," Bryant said after the Lakers beat the 76ers on Friday night. "Obviously, we're very sensitive toward that considering the current time and everything that happened since then. It's definitely inappropriate. I advised my business partners of that."
James defended Bryant, saying the words were taken out of context.
"That has nothing, zero, to do with guns," James said, raising his voice at reporters. "At all. At all. Zero. That's very simple. For somebody to even say that -- that's a basketball term. To try to highlight Kobe and say that he was referencing guns is totally ridiculous."
James said such slang is common among his peers.
"We say a lot of things as basketball players that make a reference to guns and violence, but it's really not guns and violence," he said.
Pacers coach Jim O'Brien used similar language after James' Cavaliers beat his team 94-73 on Friday. The Pacers had lost to Bryant's Lakers on Wednesday by 22 points, and O'Brien was unhappy with his team's poor shooting.
"We played two championship contenders, and they played like it against us," he said. "We did not have enough bullets in our gun to make games of it. That's about it."
Stern said during a conference call Wednesday that he and players' association executive director Billy Hunter would discuss a stronger gun policy than the one currently in the collective bargaining agreement, which prohibits players from having firearms on team property or business.
The wording under the photo of a shirtless James reads: "Opposing teams don't realize I was a football player first. I can take those hits and give a few back too."
The ad features a far different look -- the athletes' skin transformed to scaly armor -- than Nike's spots featuring puppets in the likenesses of James and Bryant.
The current campaign was too much for Cleveland city officials, who rejected a proposal by Nike to erect a 10-story tall mural of a bare-chested James. Over his left shoulder would have been the words "Prepare for Combat," topped by the Nike trademark swoosh.
The city wanted the display to project a more positive tone and have a Cleveland reference.