The legend started in Ohio youth leagues on the native park, the primary iteration of the St. Vincent-St. Mary state-championship “Fab Five” taking form within the Akron chill.
There was a 6-year-old on his and LeBron James’ workforce one yr, Willie McGee remembered. The child solely performed in blowouts. Hadn’t scored all yr. A “mascot,” McGee referred to as him.
However in one of many final video games of the season, a younger James drove center. Rolled the ball throughout the courtroom, one vacation spot in thoughts. And the child picked it up, flung it with all his may, and scored his first bucket.
“It was like, ‘Man,’” McGee mentioned, “‘only LeBron could make that pass.’”
Solely LeBron. That passing, the flexibility to raise these round him, was his best energy from a younger age. McGee will let you know. So will Dru Joyce III, or Romeo Travis or Brandon Weems, the children that went from enjoying on youth courts to profitable three state championships at St. Vincent-St. Mary.
“They tried to recreate it with different players at different times,” mentioned Travis, now an assistant coach at SVSM. “But there could never be another LeBron James.”
“Except,” Travis continued, “he made his own clone.”
Truthful or not, the query has adopted Bronny James ever since he enrolled as a freshman at Chatsworth Sierra Canyon, already one of the vital star-studded highschool basketball applications within the nation. Ever since, the world obtained a glimpse of his expertise with a 15-point effort that yr to beat James’ alma mater St. Vincent-St. Mary in Columbus, Ohio.
Who will the subsequent James be?
On Saturday, he returns to Columbus for a sport towards SVSM as a extremely touted senior prospect. And 20 years after enjoying their last season, these Combating Irish greats may have an opportunity to see Bronny in the identical place as they knew his dad — essentially the most well-known highschool basketball participant within the nation promoting out an Ohio gymnasium.
“It’s surreal, to be honest with you … I just can’t really describe it because I know where we come from, and how hard LeBron had to work to get to where he is,” mentioned Weems, now the assistant normal supervisor of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James and people early-2000s SVSM groups have saved in contact, and have had conversations about fatherhood, McGee mentioned. Particularly, letting their children select what they wished to be in life. Letting them be their very own males.
However by nature and expertise, Bronny’s path has veered near James’ on the similar age.
“It’s pretty cool that [Bronny’s] been able to experience some of the things that I was able to experience,” James advised The Los Angeles Occasions on Tuesday. “But at the end of the day, he’s creating his own path and creating his own legacy.”
And to the boys who knew LeBron James’ path higher than anybody, who’ve seen his legacy develop since these early days in Akron, each these statements are true. As a result of LeBron James’ former teammates see distinctive variations within the similarities.
One child mixed dominant dimension and athleticism with a pure really feel for the sport. One child combines a prolific shot and deal with with a pure really feel for the sport.
These St. Vincent-St. Mary groups hopped off the bus, confidence bursting out of their Adidas jerseys, as a result of they knew they’d one of the best participant on the ground each outing, Travis mentioned. That they had the trump card. The ace. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound steamroller with all-time athleticism and a professional’s imaginative and prescient.
“It’s like taking the test when you know you got all the answers,” Travis mentioned.
LeBron James was dominant in transition. A playmaker on protection. A superior passer and finisher. His maybe lone weak point as a prep prospect? Shot choice, in line with Travis.
“He felt like he had to prove that he could shoot jumpers,” Travis mentioned. “So sometimes he bailed the defense out with tough jumpers, just to say that he could shoot.”
And Bronny, James’ former teammates mentioned, is definitely the higher shooter at this stage.
At 6-3, Bronny doesn’t have his dad’s dimension. His bounce is startling, his hold time noteworthy, however not as awe-inducing as James’. However he shares a lot of his father’s IQ, Weems mentioned.
“He sees things that other players may not see, and that’s a gift LeBron had,” Weems mentioned.
LeBron James was the undisputed prime prospect within the nation. Bronny isn’t at that stage, despite the fact that he’s ranked as excessive assixth in ESPN’s 2023 California rankings. However he’s proficient sufficient, Weems feels, to play within the NBA — whether or not it’s after a freshman yr of faculty hoops or a number of seasons.
“He’s going to continue to grow and get more athletic,” Weems mentioned, now in his seventh yr with the Cavaliers. “So I believe that other front offices feel the same way.”
Basketball, for these St. Vincent-St. Mary groups, McGee mentioned, was leisure. Nevertheless it was additionally a meal ticket. That they had a collective aim of getting to school, of a free schooling, of serving to their households. And on the middle of it was LeBron James, at all times searching for everybody else.
“He understood, even at an early age, that he had some God-given talents and some gifts,” Joyce III mentioned. “And in large part, a lot of it was to change the outcome of his surroundings. To make life easier on his mom and his family.”
“It’s pretty cool that [Bronny’s] been able to experience some of the things that I was able to experience. But at the end of the day, he’s creating his own path and creating his own legacy.”
— LeBron James
However in the course of the few occasions LeBron James struggled, it went largely unnoticed. When St. Vincent-St. Mary misplaced within the state championship sport in his junior yr to Roger Bacon Excessive, it wasn’t broadly handled as the tip of the world, Travis remembered.
“I would have to say there’s more pressure on Bronny than there was LeBron,” Travis mentioned. “Just because of the social media presence — how your failures would be so public.”
Bronny, now, has 6.8 million Instagram followers, greater than Jeff Bezos and Tiger Woods. Each lowlight brings crowing from feedback. Each spotlight too.
“I couldn’t begin to understand what it’s like to be the sibling, the son, of an all-time great,” mentioned Dru Joyce II, who coached LeBron James at St. Vincent-St. Mary and nonetheless stays there. “Trying to follow in his footsteps and have to deal with all the comparisons, the talk.”
The chances for Bronny, James’ former teammates mentioned, are countless. However as of now, he’s chosen basketball. And entering into a bigger offensive position his senior yr, he’s led the Trailblazers to a 7-1 file this season coming into Saturday.
“This may be a temporary thing,” McGee mentioned. “This may not be his everything … I think he’s gon’ be a DI athlete, he’s gon’ play professionally, but is that what he wants to do? Is that what he want to do forever?”
You don’t get this far, obtain this excessive of a standing in highschool hoops, although — irrespective of your final identify — if you happen to don’t love the sport, McGee mentioned. And Bronny, whereas quiet on the ground, performs with unbridled pleasure: the pull-up threes, the roaring dunks.
Bronny wears No. 0 in honor of his favourite participant, Russell Westbrook, ESPN reported in the course of the broadcast of Monday’s sport towards Christ the King. Not his father’s No. 6, or No. 23.
“He wants to create his own lane — I think he’s done a great job with that,” Travis mentioned of Bronny. “… Most people either love him or hate him. And I’m just grateful that he’s been able to withstand all that negativity and become his own man.”
There’ll by no means be one other LeBron James, McGee mentioned. By no means one other child who might make that go in that youth-league sport. By no means one other child who might replay his story.
“But [Bronny],” McGee mentioned, “can be the best person he can be.”