It’s the time of the year when grainy videos of teenagers playing basketball creep across the Twitter feeds of basketball fans, like young hooping Sasquatches. And one teenager with a familiar name has been the subject of more grainy videos than anybody since Zion Williamson: LeBron James Jr., a.k.a. Bronny:
Bronny went off in his last ever AAU game pic.twitter.com/lJeQ734sMS— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) July 28, 2022
Bronny, 17, has been doing the full summer circuit playing with Strive for Greatness, an AAU team named after his father’s charity initiative. Last week, he played at Nike’s Peach Jam event in Georgia; tonight, he’ll play in the Las Vegas Big Time Finale, which includes a game on ESPN. (Not ESPN2 or ESPNU or ESPN+ or the Ocho—actual ESPN.) Next week, he’ll head to Europe for a three-country tour against international talent.
As the son of the most talked-about player of the 21st century, Bronny has had a media spotlight on him since he started dribbling. When Bronny was 10, his dad complained that college coaches were already trying to recruit him, which may have been an elaborate humble brag. When Bronny was 12, people made content out of Bronny dunking on 7-foot rims in driveways, and when he was a high school freshman in 2019, The Washington Post called him “the biggest draw in high school hoops.” When he transferred to Sierra Canyon, a prestigious prep school in Los Angeles, he joined an NBA son superteam starring Kenyon Martin Jr., Scotty Pippen Jr., and Zaire Wade. Although there were serious NBA prospects on those high school teams—Martin and Pippen are in the league, as are Sierra Canyon alums Ziaire Williams and Brandon Boston—Bronny’s name made the headlines.
Perhaps that was because lurking beneath the hype was the premise that someday, LeBron and Bronny would play together in the NBA. It’s not just a theory; it’s something LeBron himself has perpetuated. So far as I can tell, LeBron’s first public mention of his desire to someday team up with his son came in 2018, when Bronny was still in middle school. He’s mentioned it over and over again since, elaborating in February that his plan is to play one season with Bronny, then retire.
The NBA, perhaps even more than other pro sports, is a league of sons. From Kobe Bryant to Kevin Love, from Brent Barry to Bol Bol, the league has always been filled with second-generation players. By my count, at least 29 of the 605 NBA players who saw the court last season had fathers who played in the league—almost 5 percent, a ludicrously high figure, and enough to fill two teams’ rosters. (We can even include JaVale McGee, whose mom, Pamela, played in the WNBA, in order to bring the second-gen tally to an even 30.) The Warriors just won the NBA Finals with four NBA kids: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Gary Payton II. The trend seems likely to continue: DJ Wagner and Cameron Boozer, the top-ranked players in the classes of 2023 and 2025, respectively, are the sons of two of LeBron’s former Cleveland teammates, Dajuan Wagner and Carlos Boozer. (And Dajuan’s dad, Milt, was an NBA player too, which would make the Wagners the first ever three-generation family in the league.) As it turns out, it’s very beneficial for future NBA players to have the genes of a tall person, access to top-tier training and coaches, and of course, NBA money.
But there’s never been a father-son on-court combo. A father has coached a son—Doc and Austin Rivers, although Doc eventually traded Austin away. (He also coached his son-in-law, Seth Curry, who is Steph’s brother and Dell’s son. There are a lot of family relations in the NBA, is my point.) Fathers and sons have played together in MLB, where Ken Griffeys Sr. and Jr. famously hit back-to-back home runs in 1990. But it seemed impossible with basketball, as baseball players can extend their careers significantly longer than hoopers. LeBron’s desire to play with his oldest kid would require him to play at least until age 40 in 2024-25—his 22nd season, which would tie Vince Carter’s all-time NBA record. When he said he’d play with his son, it sounded like another one of those outlandish claims LeBron makes that may or may not ever come true. (Let’s not forget he fell not one, not two, not three, not four, but five championships short of his proposed seven titles with the Heat.)
But perhaps it isn’t preposterous. Bronny is nearly grown, and heading into his senior year in high school—while LeBron has remained virtually ageless. It’s time to start wondering: Is LeBron’s paternal pipe dream approaching plausibility?
To answer it, let’s consider the major questions.
Will LeBron be in the NBA long enough to play with Bronny?
We’re in an era of old athletes, from Tom Brady entering his age-45 season to Rafael Nadal winning grand slams at 35. And Old King LeBron is absolutely one of them. At 37 years old this past season, LeBron averaged over 30 points per game, which is, by far, the best scoring season by a player his age in league history. (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is second, having averaged 23.4 points at 38 years old in 1985-86.) LeBron finished fourth in PER, and if he’d played enough games, he would have finished second in points per game, tied for 16th in assists per game, and 28th in rebounds per game.
But LeBron has had two things happen in his four-season stint with the Lakers that didn’t happen in his first decade and a half in the league: injuries and losses. LeBron was virtually immune to injury for most of his career, but has missed 80 games due to injury in four seasons with the Lakers after missing 71 games in 15 seasons with the Cavs and Heat. And the Lakers have missed the playoffs twice in four seasons after LeBron-led teams qualified for the postseason in 13 straight seasons from 2006 to 2018. Things are somewhat fraught with the Lakers; you may have heard about this.
There are some mild signs that LeBron is slowing down. But if LeBron wants to play until 2025 to team up with Bronny, it seems like he should be able to make it happen.
Is Bronny an NBA-level player?
This is less of a sure thing. While there is a pathway for Bronny to make the NBA, it’s probably unfair to keep talking about him as a surefire superstar. He’s not a one-of-a-kind physical specimen like his dad, nor is he a ball-dominant scorer.
When Bronny debuted on the 247Sports composite rankings as a 6-foot-2 sophomore in 2020, he ranked 19th in the country. Now, he’s ranked 43rd. That’s not because he’s gotten worse as a player—in fact, he’s recently earned praise for his growth and assertiveness on offense.
Bronny James has really improved over the past year since I last saw him. Just does so many things that impact winning. Terrific passer, defends at high level and has become more versatile scorer. Always poised. Will be interesting to see where he goes to college.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) July 21, 2022
Bronny is now 6-foot-3, just an inch taller than he was two years ago. His early growth helped fuel the hype around him, but now other players have grown taller than him, which helps explain Bronny’s fall. None of the top 28 picks in June’s NBA draft were 6-foot-3 or shorter. If Bronny were an elite scorer or playmaker, his height would be less of an issue—but he’s typically deferred to his teammates on star-studded rosters. Most scouting reports on Bronny describe him as a potential NBA-caliber role player—a savvy passer and quality shooter with high basketball IQ who thrives on defense. But it’s hard to make the league as a 6-foot-3 defensively-minded wing.
Being the 43rd-ranked player in the country still means you’re pretty good! And players do make the NBA from that range. Of the 50 players who ranked between 40th and 49th from 2016 to 2020, 10 have been drafted, including first-rounders like Moses Moody, Ty Jerome, and Zeke Nnaji. Even if he wasn’t named LeBron James Jr., Bronny is talented enough to potentially make the NBA someday. But unless he grows some more, his game will have to grow instead.
Where will Bronny play after high school?
If any college coaches did offer Bronny a scholarship when he was 10, they seem to have backed off. 247Sports scouting director Adam Finkelstein recently reported that no college programs were seriously pursuing Bronny, since it’s widely expected that he will bypass college basketball to pursue a more development-focused pathway. So what does that mean? Is Bronny headed to Australia or Europe to play professionally? Seems unlikely—LeBron moved to L.A. for “my family and the Lakers,” so Bronny probably isn’t going to another continent for his gap year. Will LeBron start his own league, like the Ball family’s Junior Basketball Association? (Who can forget LiAngelo Ball’s 58-point performance to give the Los Angeles Ballers the title over the Seattle Ballers?)
A likely option seems like the NBA’s G League, which has become a legitimate pathway for players looking to skip college and focus on their game. While a handful of prospects had already gone to the G League out of high school, the pipeline has become more official since the 2020 launch of the G League Ignite program, which specifically caters to prep-to-pro players. In just two seasons, the Ignite program has produced four first-round picks—Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Dyson Daniels, and MarJon Beauchamp. They’ve got roster spots open for the sons of NBA legends, too—they just inked a deal with Shareef O’Neal, hoping to develop his game after he went undrafted out of LSU. The start-up Overtime Elite league is looking to accomplish roughly the same thing, but I doubt the James family would want to rile up the NBA by becoming the face of the Ignite’s biggest competitor.
What should the Lakers do?
LeBron took his talents to South Beach to form a superteam, returned home to the Cavs to win one for Cleveland, and went to L.A. for “family and the Lakers” (and maybe to help launch his movie production career). But the Decision 4.0 will come down to Bronny. “Wherever Bronny is at, that’s where I’ll be,” he said in February. (He was also teasing a return to Cleveland and subtly venting at the Lakers’ quiet trade deadline in that interview, but he sounded sincere.) So the Lakers should make moves if they want to keep LeBron. And while Bronny can’t play in the NBA until 2024, the Lakers organization could hypothetically bring in Bronny a year early.
The Lakers have owned their own G League team, the South Bay Lakers, since 2006, the longest affiliation of any NBA team. (Back then they were the Los Angeles D-Fenders, because the league used to be called the D-League, short for “Developmental League.” Now, the league is sponsored by Gatorade, but I choose to believe “G League” is short for “Gevelopmental League.”) Bronny could declare for the G League draft after high school, and while any team could draft him (and might want to given his name recognition and marketing potential), G League draft picks can be acquired pretty cheaply. (Including the no. 1 pick!) It isn’t unreasonable to think the Lakers, if they want it badly enough, would be able to make sure Bronny ended up in South Bay.
The blueprint for the Lakers could be what the Warriors did with Alen Smailagic. They started scouting Smailagic in Serbia when he was 16 and eventually signed him to the Santa Cruz Warriors, allowing Golden State’s front office to manage his development process. But they didn’t hold his NBA draft rights, and any team could have picked him. But Smailagic was notably unavailable to other teams for most of the predraft process, and the Warriors picked him 39th in the 2019 draft. Although the experiment was a bust—Smailagic played in only 29 games for Golden State and was cut after two seasons—it shows how an organization can control a player from the prospect to pro levels.
Using a roster spot to appease an NBA VIP is a surprisingly rich G League tradition. The Bucks’ G League affiliate, the Wisconsin Herd, just traded for the fourth Antetokounmpo brother, Alex. The Heat used the no. 2 pick in the G League draft on Trey Mourning, a decision that may have had something to do with Alonzo Mourning being the team’s VP of player development. And Bronny’s old Sierra Canyon teammate, Zaire Wade, was a first-round pick in the 2021 G League draft—going to the Salt Lake City Stars, the affiliate of the Utah Jazz, which are partially owned by his father (and LeBron’s former teammate) Dwyane. And former JBA champion LiAngelo Ball ended up on the G League team of LaMelo’s Hornets, the Greensboro Swarm. While the NBA had to investigate when the Knicks signed J.R. Smith’s questionably talented brother to a shady NBA contract, the G League is meant for development, so players don’t have to be ready for prime time. So the Lakers would be following in well-tread footsteps if they brought in Bronny as a favor to LeBron—the difference being Bronny is a much better NBA prospect than any of those players, so their nepotism would be justifiable.
There are two issues with this plan. The first is that LeBron wouldn’t actually be able to play with his son in the G League, unless he were rehabbing an injury, and I kinda doubt his dream of teaming up with his kid involves coming back from a sprained ankle in a game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. The second is that having a player on your G League team has no standing when it comes to what NBA team he’ll eventually play for. Sure, it would be nice to have Bronny around his dad around a year early, but the Lakers would still have to select him in the NBA draft to keep the Jameses around long term.
Can somebody else screw this up?
Thank you for sitting through G League draft analysis. You have now reached the fun part of the article: the part with petty scheming.
Bronny’s potential as a player is uncertain. He’s got game, but it’s not a lock that he’ll thrive in the pros—or even make them at all. But the team that winds up with Bronny will apparently get a package deal. And the other half of the package is very much a sure thing. In fact, he’s in the conversation to be the greatest basketball player ever.
This is why you could make an argument that the team with the no. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA draft should use it on Bronny. But this seems like a pretty big stretch. You’d be passing up the top player in the 2024 draft for a single season of 40-year-old LeBron James.
But what if you have, say, the 26th pick? You’d be getting a legitimate prospect—maybe not the 26th-best player in the draft, but roughly one of the top 50. Teams have made worse decisions! And on top of that, you’d be the front-runner to sign LeBron James. And if you have the 26th pick in the draft, you probably just made the playoffs. Bronny can develop without having to play right away, and LeBron might be the piece your team needs to become a real title contender. Worst-case scenario? LeBron decides he doesn’t want to sign with your team, and you get to trade Bronny to the Lakers for way more than he’s worth.
What’s the end game?
It seems pretty simple. A LeBron-Bronny season would be a pretty beautiful way for LeBron’s career to end, regardless of whether Bronny becomes a superstar, or whether LeBron is still an elite player at 40. It’d be unprecedented, it’d be sweet, and it would be a much more meaningful end to a legend’s career than, I don’t know, trying to redeem a squad you mismanaged as GM by suiting up alongside Kwame Brown.
But why stop with Bronny? Because there’s another member of the James household who is starting to appear in his own grainy Twitter videos. While Bronny has gotten the attention, LeBron’s second-oldest son, Bryce, has sprouted up in the shadows. He’s already 6-foot-6 at just 15 years old, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst says some coaches view him as a better prospect than Bronny.
15 yo Bryce is almost as tall as Bron already pic.twitter.com/ePVGAlpBDA— Masked In LA (@MaskedInLA) July 6, 2022
This Bryce kid is gonna be like 6-foot-10. NEW PLAN. LeBron simply needs to play until … hold up, let me do the math … his 24th NBA season. Cancel the Bronny schemes. Every team needs to be gunning for the no. 1 pick in the 2026 NBA draft to secure the services of future superstar Bryce, role player Bronny, and 41-year-old LeBron. And the last shot of LeBron’s career can be a championship-winning jumper over one of Carlos Boozer’s kids.