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AS A KID, I played on an under 12s basketball team coached by my friend’s father. That’s not unusual in junior sporting ranks – somebody’s got to put their hand up to lead the little ones. As kids, we were just grateful that an adult (albeit one with no basketball expertise to speak of) was teaching us to shoot overhead and execute lay-ups.

But I do recall, on occasion, looking over at my friend and his father during time-outs and studying the dynamic between father and son, my 11-year-old brain keenly scrutinising their exchanges for signs of favouritism, or at the other end of the spectrum, overcompensating criticism. To their credit, ‘Mr Franklin’, or ‘dad’ to his son Aaron, managed to treat all his players the same.

I was reminded of Aaron and his dad this morning, as news broke that LeBron James’ eldest son, Bronny, has been drafted by the LA Lakers with the 55th pick in the NBA draft. The selection was not a surprise. As far back as 2012, LeBron has spoken of his desire to play with his son. As Bronny rose through the junior ranks of AAU basketball, the prospect of the ‘James’s’ playing together in the NBA moved from being a tantalising pipe dream to something closer to a promise. It’s only a matter of time before LeBron’s agent Rich Paul commissions a reality TV show.

LeBron, the proud dad, did all he could to talk up his son’s potential, claiming last year that Bronny was better than half the talent currently on NBA rosters, a ridiculous assertion about a player who averaged 4.8 points per game as a freshman at USC – to be fair to Bronny, his season was severely hampered by a cardiac arrest; he deserves praise for coming back at all.

Whether or not Bronny deserved to be drafted is now a moot point but one that will continue to be belaboured. At 6’ 1″ with an unreliable jumper, many analysts believed the combo guard needed at least another year in college to let his game develop. Many believed he would have gone undrafted this year if his dad wasn’t arguably the greatest player of all time. Inevitably, he’s already been labelled a ‘nepo-baller’.

The problem for the James’s, was that staying in college didn’t align, at least not neatly, with LeBron’s timeline – he turns 40 this year and will be entering his 22nd season, though it’s likely that now that the Lakers have signed Bronny, ‘The King’ will accept the team’s three-year $162 million offer. Klutch, the agency run by Paul, attempted to make sure other teams didn’t draft Bronny ahead of the Lakers, reportedly even saying they’d send the kid to play here in the NBL if that were to occur.

Indeed, the fact that Bronny, the prince that was promised, has now been drafted, is the result of a remarkable number of dominos either falling, or, more cynically, being pushed. For while there have been many examples of players’ offspring making it to the NBA – Dell and Steph Curry, Mychal and Klay Thompson, Gary Payton and Gary Payton Jnr. – to name but a few, never before have father and son played at the same time, let alone on the same team.

For such an unlikely event to occur, a few things need to happen: the father needs to have kids young; the kid needs to play his dad’s sport; the kid needs to be good at that sport; the dad needs to play long enough and well enough (James is certainly an outlier on this front) that their ages align and then, yes, the nepotism domino – a double six – has to be carefully placed on the table. You could credibly argue that it has been in the case of the James’s.

But while Bronny’s path to the NBA is certainly an interesting one, now that LeBron’s long-held wish has been realised, the obvious question is what the James’s father-son dynamic will look like, both on and off the court?

There are many factors to consider. In normal circumstances, a player of Bronny’s ability wouldn’t expect to see much playing time in his first or even second season. He is not, of course, just any other player, meaning Bronny is likely to be thrust onto the court, regardless of whether his talent and development actually merit it. It’s not just LeBron that wants this, either – fans, casuals, the internet, everybody, wants to see it.

The next question that arises is how Bronny and LeBron cope with commentary from fans. While this is likely to be merciless, you probably couldn’t find two individuals more equipped to deal with it. Bronny has shown himself to be a strong and resilient character, dealing with the burden of expectation, significant trolling through the junior ranks and a freakin’ cardiac arrest, all before the age of 19.

Similarly, James has dealt with expectations since he anointed himself The Chosen One as a teenager and proceeded to make the leap from high-school phenom to NBA superstar. He’s occupied the national spotlight from 15 onwards, conducting himself throughout with integrity and honour. His off-court resume is free of scandal or skeletons, a remarkable achievement for an athlete in this day and age. He’s also dealt with more than his fair share of abuse from fans, much of it from the legions of Jordan acolytes protective of their hero’s legacy. He too, is strong of character.

But as any parent knows, when vitriol and abuse is directed at your family, emotions are a lot harder to control. LeBron made a female fan flinch this past season after she hurled abuse at him. Will he be able to restrain himself when fans target Bronny?

In the same vein, while LeBron has shown admirable self-control in resisting at times severe provocations (looking at you Lance Stephenson) and trash talking from opponents throughout his career, will he be able to marshal the same restraint if Bronny is involved in a physical altercation?

The final dynamic at play here, is how LeBron the basketballer, handles having his son as a teammate. Throughout his career, LeBron has at times been a cold, calculating and passive aggressive figure towards teammates. You either “fit in or fit out”, as he famously sub-tweeted former Cavs teammate Kevin Love.

As many teammates have discovered, playing alongside LeBron is something of a poisoned chalice – if the team wins, LeBron gets all the credit. If they lose, it’s everybody else’s fault as teammates are shipped out and coaches fired. While historically The King hasn’t shown a lot of patience for teammates who don’t perform, you imagine he will cut his own son considerably more slack. In doing so, of course, he opens himself up to accusations of favouritism and hypocrisy.

That’s not to say the two can’t compartmentalise their relationship, prioritising professionalism on the court and love off it – Ivan and Nathan Cleary, for example, seem to be able to manage their on-and-off court father-son relationship just fine, if the Panthers’ premiership three-peat is anything to go by. It remains to be seen if Bronny and LeBron can do the same.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be fascinating to watch – it really does deserve a reality show – and just as I found myself pondering the dynamic between Aaron and his dad back in those under 12s time-outs, a lot of us will be keen to see how the James’s navigate a path nobody has trod before.


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