When Bronny James committed to Southern California on May 6, I was reminded of my good fortune as it related to being in close proximity with basketball prodigies. Thanks to events such as the Nike EYBL Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina, which was practically down the street for me as a child, basketball’s best and brightest future stars appeared at my doorstep.
I was only a teenager when future NBA player Quentin Richardson and the Illinois Warriors won the Peach Jam in 1997, the tournament’s second year, and I rushed on the court to get his autograph after the championship game was over. I was a professional writer when I picked Memphis to win the national title during during future NBA guard Derrick Rose’s freshman year in 2007-08 because I saw him and Eric Gordon terrorize the summer circuit with the aptly-named MeanStreets Express AAU team in 2006.
I witnessed James’ first appearance as a player at Peach Jam in 2022, which reminded me of my own youthful exuberance. The gyms were overflowing in anticipation of one of basketball’s first families. People didn’t quite know what to expect when James took the court as a 14-year-old in the event’s Under 15 qualifier – only that he was gifted and burdened with the name LeBron James.
While the experience inspired me to write about the elder James’ presence in his son’s life, I couldn’t help but notice how the younger James exhibited his father’s court vision. Fans expected – almost demanded – that James dominate the competition as his father did so many years ago, but I was impressed by his ability to allow the game to come to him.
It was an attribute that has continued to serve him well, even in the midst of unrealistic expectations.
Our sense of debate has become so extreme, and in turn, so myopic. Michael Jordan or LeBron James, we insist. Rarely do we engage in the sensible work of appreciating similarities, and further, it takes to achieve excellence in the first place.
The beautiful thing about James is that his upbringing and ascension should not elicit questions of nature versus nurture. He is clearly a product of nature and nurture – continuous improvement.
The nurturing, of course, comes from the close-knit James family. LeBron James regularly attended his two sons’ games, which included his wife Savannah, mother Gloria and daughter Zhuri. The comfort with which James appears to approach the game also reflects his father’s navigation of that same limelight. We can’t possibly overstate that level of scrutiny because LeBron James’ success continues to happen despite the unbelievable hype that accompanied him from high school to the NBA.
This is essential parenting. There are some who simulate the adversity of their childhood in an effort to prepare their children for the “real world.” There are others who understand that giving their children the things they didn’t have aren’t just promises of material things, but also shielding them from negativity while sharing affirmations.
I am inclined to believe LeBron James falls in the latter category, with his handshakes and hearty laughs. He has watched his children play basketball with the enthusiasm of someone who once built his brand on “crazy court vision.”
Still, that only deals with nurture. Tutelage added a long-range jumper to the court vision that James inherited, which with adequate athleticism made the promise of becoming a pro more realistic. Still, folks longed for James to attack the rim like his famous father, and his forays to the rim were modest at best.
That’s when nature kicked in.
Last summer, I saw James again at the Peach Jam. His performance during the summer session grabbed the attention of scouts and draft analysts. His vision and jumper were still the strengths of his game, but now he was jumping out of the gym.
The first time I was taken aback by a dunk in the layup line, it was Rose who casually drove to the basket as a member of MeanStreets. Suddenly, he cocked the ball back with two hands and furiously punched it into the basket. It was the type of athleticism that defined Rose’s career, which crested with an MVP award and he might have been on track to the Hall of Fame if not for injuries.
James’ layup-line smash wasn’t as explosive, but it was memorable all the same. He wore Beats headphones, another detail of his father’s influence. Bronny sped up to the lane, then took off, palming the ball with his dad’s familiar dunk pose, before throwing it down.
The younger Bron’s Peach Jam run fueled a successful senior campaign at Sierra Canyon High School, which ended with McDonald’s All American honors. During the McDonald’s dunk contest, James leaped over his younger brother Bryce for a dunk that quickly went viral.
James’ bounce, however meteoric, was also metaphoric. Years of nature and nurture yielded an incredible opportunity – the second-generation basketball superstar became the first of the James Gang to attend college.
“One of the best days of my life,” LeBron James said after the Los Angeles Lakers’ win over the Golden State Warriors in Game 3 on Sunday, which came a few short hours after James’ announcement. “First of all, congratulations to Bronny on the decision he made. I’m superproud of him, our family is proud of him. For me personally, it’s even more special to me because it’s the first time someone out of my family will go to college.
“I couldn’t lose today no matter the outcome of this game.”
Undoubtedly, there will continue to be speculation about whether James will be a successful pro, and perhaps wonder how he might perform in the shadow of his phenomenal father. We should have learned our collective lesson by now.
For the better part of 25 years, expectations have been met and criticism has been rebuked in the name of LeBron James. Lives have been changed and schools have been built with a focus on family. Nurture has been cultivated in a way that encourages growth to be second nature, on both personal and professional levels.
“Fight on!” makes sense in proximity, just like it makes sense for James to play his home games only a few miles away from where the Lakers play their home games. If history is a guide, it won’t be long before we see LeBron James Sr. and LeBron James Jr. compete together professionally.
I hope we can learn to appreciate them as both individuals and part of a bigger brand – family.