NORTH AUGHOSTA, SC – As LeBron James sat on a folding chair in the corner of an entertainment center basketball court last week, he often seemed to be on edge.
There was James, running onto the field over and over to check the scoreboard and the clock above him. Or chomp on an apple and dig into a gallon-sized bag of nuts. Or he pleads, “Come, op,” when the call wasn’t to his liking.
He stood to whisper the instructions of his son, who shook his head sharply as he passed the ball inward along the baseline. James took to the field in the first half — first to give advice to the coach of his sponsoring traveling soccer team, Strive for Greatness, and then to get some shots with his left hand, prompting many in the packed stands to use their cell phones. To record the exercise.
For several days at Peach Jam, Nike’s annual summer job show, James was just another basketball dad (albeit with security details). There he was watching his eldest son, LeBron James Jr., who goes by Bronnie’s side and finds out where the future of basketball lies, just like any other high school player entering his first season (even those with 6.3 million followers on Instagram and the world-famous NBA star’s father). ).
Bronny, a 6-foot-2 goalkeeper, is largely distinguished by his strong basketball IQ but lacks elite athleticism and a polished shot – an advantage for almost any team but most likely a role player.
Whatever Bruni ends up doing a year from now — going to college, playing in the Development League or taking an unorthodox path — is unlikely to alter the trajectory of championship ambitions in, say, Gonzaga or North Carolina, or turbocharging the growth of the G League, League Development operated by the NBA, or Overtime Elite, an emerging development league that pays high school and college gamers.
However, his next move is sure to generate interest far beyond the hyperactive fish bowl of college basketball recruits. James, 37 years old said the athlete Before the NBA All-Star Game in February, he spent his final season playing alongside his son. “Wherever Bruni is, that’s where I’ll be,” he said, reiterating a scenario from his childhood in which Ken Griffey and his son Ken Grieve Jr. played together for the Seattle Mariners. “I would have done whatever it took to play with my son for one year. It’s not about the money at that point.”
(Bronny turns 18 in October and won’t be eligible for the NBA draft until 2024 under current rules, which require players to be at least 19 and a year away from graduating from high school.)
James, whose contract with the Lakers expires next June while Bronny is due to graduate from Sierra Canyon, a private school in Chatsworth, Calif., declined to discuss Bronnie’s plans or try preparing him for the next step in basketball. Life is like it for him and his wife, Savannah, who sat next to him last week with their 7-year-old daughter Zuri. (James’s youngest son, Bryce, 15, also plays in the Sierra Canyon.)
James said there will be time to talk about Bruni’s future later.
This is correct. While many of Bronny’s contemporaries will be making campus visits, announcing college commitments or reaching agreements with development associations in the coming weeks, Bronny has more immediate plans. On August 7, he will leave with his high school All-Star team for shows in London, Paris and Rome that will air on ESPN.
However, as he begins to finish his next move this fall, more than two dozen college coaches, travel coaches, NBA scouts, network television officials, and teens who have played for and against Bronnie, expect to be hired — if not quite the decision. Son – to be far from the norm.
“I don’t think I’ll be on the phone all the time with Mum and Dad like I usually do,” said a coach at a school interested in Bruni. This person, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because coaches are prohibited by NCAA rules from publicly commenting on recruitable athletes.
Ed Estevan, Strive for Greatness coach and assistant at Sierra Canyon, expects Bronny to make his recruiting visits this fall.
“I understand he doesn’t have a normal life, but he’s just a normal normal kid,” Estefan said, noting that it’s rare for Bruni to walk into a restaurant or walk through an airport unmolested. “He wants to experience all the other things that all other kids experience.”
He added that college coaches had not made much effort to hire Bruni until recently because they were skeptical that he would attend college. “Now, a lot of college coaches know he’s interested in college and that’s a place he probably sees himself going to, so the phone is going off like crazy,” Estefan said.
Some things seem certain: If Bruni does attend college, she will be in a school sponsored by Nike, which has invested heavily in his father since James entered the NBA as a generational phenomenon in 2003. And ESPN, who has been a frequent collaborator with James, would be an ardent partner. . James’ longtime advisors, Rich Paul and Maverick Carter, will be channels of communication for anyone interested in hiring Bronney. “I should listen to my dad, Rich or Maverick,” said a school aide who expressed interest in recruiting him.
Finding the perfect spot for Bruni may not be as simple as picking up blue blood. Kentucky and Duke, for example, have already received commitments from 5-star guards, his most likely future position. UCLA targets its elite point guard, Isaiah Collier of Marietta, Ga. , and will also have a stacked depth chart. (UCLA and his other school in his hometown, Southern California, have shown no interest as of last week.)
If Bruni isn’t playing a prominent role, what coach would want to take pains to explain why – to the fans, the media, James and his camp?
“You become a normal person as a parent — you’re just looking for the best scenario for your child,” said Memphis coach Benny Hardaway, himself a former NBA star whose son Ashton, 18, is considering whether to play in Memphis or elsewhere. . . “As a parent, you want to make sure they have support wherever they go.”
Hardaway, who watched Bruni play at least twice last week and spoke briefly with James, has benefited from his NBA relationships with Mike Miller, Rashid Wallace and Larry Brown on his team in recent years. (Brown is considering whether to return; the others have left.) However, Hardaway’s record is mixed. Emonie Bates, among the top recruits in the country last season, flopped in Memphis and has since moved to eastern Michigan.
Michigan coach Joanne Howard, whose son Jett will be a freshman this season, played three seasons alongside James with the Miami Heat and spent another season with him as an assistant coach. The Wolverines are interested, too, though it would be something if James – a lifelong Ohio fan – sends his son to the Buckeyes’ rival.
However, Bruni may end up in Columbus. Ohio State, where James would likely have played had he gone to college, had James informed it was interested in enlisting his son, and coach Chris Holtman and assistant Jake Deebler watched him play at Peach Jam.
However, the limits of family ties will be tested if Keith Dambrot, head coach of James High School in Akron, makes a call. He’s the coach at Duquesne.
One school making an unexpected push to recruit James is Rutgers, a basketball player. As far-fetched as that may sound, Rutgers hopes that coach Steve Bikkel’s solid track record will evolve – converting outlawed recruits like Geo Baker and Ron Harper Jr.
As fun as Bronny in Piscataway might be, Peach Jam has provided a window into what it might look like. Since he first played in the tournament before he started high school, fans waiting to watch Bruni’s play crowded the lanes outside every stadium an hour before the alarm—even if the top coaches at other stadiums watched the much-appreciated prospects. This year, Ramel Drake, 32, of Graniteville, South Carolina, came with his son Mark, 5, thanking they were able to get into the crowded stands. (Mark noted that Bruni was wearing No. 6.)
In this particular game, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul sat next to James in the corner of the gym, which he entered through a side door from the parking lot.
“Oh, man, the environment was crazy,” said Josh Hubbard, a bouncer from Madison, Miss., who posed with his father for a photo with James and his son after they played. “There were people outside the doors, people in the game before just waiting to watch our game.”
In this year’s personal assessment season, which just ended this week, college coaches saw a different side of Bronny, who often played a supporting role on his high school and travel ball teams. Over the past few months, Strive for Greatness’s roster has been constantly swaying, the team rarely wins, and Bruni was left to take charge of his squad – a familiar role in the family.
“It’s tough as hell,” said Thaddeus Young, who just finished his 15th season in the NBA and sponsored a team that played Strive for Greatness, an assessment largely echoed by college coaches and NBA scouts. “Obviously, maybe not the elite elite. But he is athletic, strong, he plays in defense, he can shoot the ball well, he can run the guard position, he can play off the ball.”
“I love his game,” Young added.
Before long, a wider audience will judge itself.