NORTH AUGUST, South Carolina. When LeBron James sat on a folding chair in the corner of the entertainment center’s basketball court last week, he often seemed flustered.
There was James, who went out to the court several times to check the scoreboard and the clock above it. Or munching on an apple and digging through a gallon-sized bag of nuts. Or the plea “Come on, referee” when the call was not to his liking.
He stood up to whisper instructions to his son, who nodded sharply as he passed inbounds along the baseline. James entered the court at half-time — first to give advice to the coach of his sponsored team on the Pursuit of Greatness ball journey, then to throw a few left-handed shots that prompted many in the crowded stands to whip out their cell phones. to record the exercise.
For days at Peach Jam, Nike’s annual summer recruiting event, James was just another basketball dad (albeit with security). He was there watching his eldest son, LeBron James Jr., go by the name Bronnie and figure out where his future in basketball is, just like any other high schooler starting his senior season (even one with 6.3 million followers). on Instagram and world ranking). famous father of a basketball superstar).
Bronnie, a 6-foot-2 guard, is mostly characterized by a high basketball IQ, but he lacks the elite athleticism and polished shooting ability of just about any team, but most likely a role player.
Whatever Bronnie does a year from now—going to college, playing in a development league, or taking an unconventional route—is unlikely to change the trajectory of, say, Gonzaga’s or North Carolina’s championship ambitions, or accelerate the rise of the G League, the NBA-run development league, or Overtime. Elite, a nascent development league that pays high school and college age players.
However, his next move is sure to generate interest far beyond the hyperkinetic aquarium of college basketball recruiting. James, 37 years old said Athletic shortly before the NBA All-Star Game in February, that his final season would be spent in the game with his son. “Wherever Bronnie is, I will be there,” he said, repeating a scenario from his childhood in which Ken Griffey and his son Ken Griffey Jr. played together for the Seattle Mariners. “I would do my best to play with my son for one year. In this case, it’s not about the money.”
(Bronnie turns 18 in October and will not be eligible for the NBA draft until 2024 under current rules that require players to be at least 19 years old and must have completed high school a year early. )
James, whose contract with the Lakers expires next June, just as Bronnie is graduating from Sierra Canyon High, a private school in Chatsworth, California, declined to discuss Bronnie’s plans or the experience of preparing him for the next step in basketball. life is like him and his wife Savannah, who often sat next to him last week with her 7-year-old daughter Juri. (The Jameses’ youngest son, 15-year-old Bryce, also plays in Sierra Canyon.)
James said there would be time later to talk about Bronnie’s future.
It’s right. While many of Bronnie’s peers will visit campus, announce college plans or reach agreements with development leagues in the coming weeks, Bronnie has more immediate plans. He will leave in August. 7 with an all-star high school team to play exhibitions in London, Paris and Rome, which will air on ESPN.
However, as he begins to complete his next step this fall, more than two dozen college and ball coaches, NBA scouts, television network representatives and teenagers who have played with and against Bronnie are looking to hire him—if not quite. junior – to be far from the norm.
“I don’t think I’m going to be on the phone with my mom and dad all the time like I usually do,” said one of the head coaches at the school showing an interest in Bronnie. This person, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity because NCAA rules prohibit coaches from publicly commenting on recruited athletes.
Ed Estevan, the Strive for Greatness coach and assistant at Sierra Canyon, expects Bronnie to attend recruiting visits this fall.
“I understand that he does not have a normal life, but he is just an ordinary, normal child,” Estevan said, noting that Bronnie rarely enters a restaurant or walks through the airport without onlookers. “He wants to experience the same things as all the other kids.”
He added that until recently, college coaches hadn’t put much effort into recruiting Bronnie because they were skeptical that he would go to college. “Now a lot of college coaches know that he has an interest in college and he will probably see what goes there, which is why the phone is ringing like crazy,” Estevan said.
A few things seem obvious: if Bronnie goes to college, it will be the Nike-sponsored school that has invested heavily in his father since James became an NBA generation phenomenon in 2003. And ESPN, which often collaborates with James, will be an eager partner. James’ longtime advisers, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter, will serve as conduits for anyone interested in recruiting Bronnie. “I have to listen to Dad, Rich or Maverick,” said an assistant at the school, which expressed interest in hiring him.
Finding the right place for Bronnie might not be as easy as choosing a blue blood. Kentucky and Duke, for example, have already signed 5-star point guards, which is his most likely future position. UCLA has targeted elite point guard Isaiah Collier from Marietta, Georgia and he will also have a stacked depth chart. (UCLA and another school in his hometown, Southern California, showed no interest last week.)
If Bronnie doesn’t play a prominent role, what coach would want to explain why – to the fans, the media, James and his team?
“You become a normal person as a parent – you’re just looking for the best scenario for your child,” said Memphis coach Penny Hardaway, a former NBA player whose son Ashton, 18, is considering whether to play in Memphis or elsewhere. . “As a parent, you want to make sure they are supported wherever they go.”
Hardaway, who watched Bronnie play at least twice last week and chatted a bit with James, has used his NBA connections with Mike Miller, Rasheed Wallace and Larry Brown on his staff in recent years. (Brown considers returning; the others have left.) However, Hardaway’s track record is mixed. Emony Bates, one of the nation’s top recruits last season, flopped in Memphis and has since moved to Eastern Michigan.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard, whose son Jett will be a rookie this season, spent three seasons with James at the Miami Heat and spent another season with him as an assistant coach. The Wolverines are also interested, although it would be nice if James – a longtime Ohio State fan – sent his son to rival Buckeye.
However, Bronnie may end up in Columbus. Ohio State, where James would most likely play if he went to college, told James it was interested in bringing his son on, and coach Chris Holtmann and assistant Jake Diebler watched Bronnie play at Peach Jam.
However, the limits of family ties will be tested if Keith Dambroth, James’ high school coach in Akron, calls. He is a coach at Duquesne.
One school that is making a surprise push to hire James is Rutgers, a basketball buff. As far-fetched as it sounds, Rutgers is hopeful that coach Steve Pikiell has made significant developmental strides, turning little-known recruits like Geo Baker, Ron Harper Jr. and Miles Johnson in the titled players of the “Big Ten” – this attracts James.
As fun as Bronnie was in Piscataway, “Peach Jam” gave an idea of what it could look like. Ever since he first entered the tournament before he was in high school, crowds waiting to see Bronnie play filled the corridors outside each court an hour before kickoff—even if the head coaches were on other courts watching. more respected players. This year, Ramel Drake, 32, came from Graniteville, South Carolina, with his son Mark, 5, thankful they could squeeze into the crowded stands. (Mark pointed to Bronnie, who was wearing the number 6.)
In this particular game, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul sat next to James in the corner of the gym, where he entered through the side door from the parking lot.
“Oh man, the environment was crazy,” said Josh Hubbard, a security guard from Madison, Mississippi, who, along with his father, posed for a photo with James and his son after they played. “There were people outside the doors, people at the game, before waiting just to watch our game.”
This year’s personal assessment season just ended this week, college coaches saw a different side of Bronnie, often playing a supporting role on his high school and travel teams. Over the past few months, the composition of the “Striving for Greatness” has constantly changed, the team rarely won, and Bronnie remained to carry his team – a role familiar to the family.
“He’s pretty damn reliable,” said Thaddeus Young, who just finished his 15th NBA season and sponsored a team that played in the Pursuit of Greatness. This assessment was largely supported by college coaches and NBA scouts. “Obviously, probably not the elite of the elite. But he is athletic, strong, defensive, good at throwing the ball, can work as point guard, can play off the ball.”
“I love his game,” Young added.
Soon a wider audience will be able to judge for themselves.