LeBron is manipulating the media for his sons’ sake

LeBron is manipulating the media for his sons' sake


LeBron James greets son Bronny after a high school tournament in 2021.
Image: Getty Images

LeBron is promoting the hell out of his newest passion project. It’s not a Spring Hill-Warner Bros. production, but it is the most personal aspect of his investment portfolio. For Sports Illustrated’s Daily Cover story on Tuesday, LeBron, flanked by his sons Bronny and Bryce, spoke to Chris Ballard, sounding more like a calmer Lavar Ball. In LeBron’s circumstance, he’s the one with gravitas around the league while his sons are fringe prospects he’s trying to elevate into serious prospects. During their session with Ballard, LeBron doubled down on his desire to play alongside Bronny by unveiling his desire to potentially team with Bryce.

When discussing Bryce’s future, LeBron tied his basketball twilight to his sons’ burgeoning careers.

“I’d definitely be looking at who got first-round picks in 2024, 2025, things of that nature; 2026, ’27. I pay attention to that type of stuff.” I do the math —2027? — and nod at Bryce. “Is there a chance you’d stick around for this guy, too?” LeBron smiles. “I feel like I could play for quite a while. So it’s all up to my body, but more importantly, my mind. If my mind can stay sharp and fresh and motivated, then the sky’s not even a limit for me. I can go beyond that. But we shall see.”

 And with that, LeBron essentially verified both Bronny and Bryce as basketball NFTs. On their own, Bronny and Bryce shouldn’t be worth much to NBA franchises or garner this much attention, but their value is related to tertiary benefits having them can provide. Bronny and Bryce are the currency, and LeBron is the prize. Any college program or franchise that has LeBron’s progeny slip on their uniforms can count on the real-deal LeBron as an accompanying asset. LeBron is locked into a three-year Lakers contract with a player option in the final season, which allows him to become a free agent when his oldest son could go pro.

Sons of NBA legends are littered throughout the NBA. Bronny and Bryce are the new symbols of the second-generational NBA movement. The viewing public has mused in recent years about the decline of NBA stars from less-privileged backgrounds. In reality, second-generation NBA players represent approximately five percent of the league. Even fewer are descendants of Hall of Famers. Soon, Bronny may have to face the charges that nepotism got him into the league. Especially if he’s drafted by a team who is clearly using him as LeBron bait.

This fall, LeBron’s 20th season as a pro coincides with Bronny’s pivotal senior season. For the first time, he’ll be counted on as the go-to player on a team touted as one of the nation’s best programs. In past seasons, Bronny was overshadowed by five-star talent. Junior Isaiah Elohim is rated as the No. 14 recruit on ESPN’s 150 and Bronny comes in at No. 35, the modest numbers he averaged in years past trailing behind blue chippers-turned-pros such as B.J. Boston or Ziaire Williams.

Ironically, the closest comp for Bronny may be the one teammate he and LeBron have both shared. During his senior year at Sierra Canyon in, Scotty Pippen Jr. carved out a role as a distributor for more highly-touted prospects. As a scrawny 6-foot-3 version of Bronny who plays passing lanes well, sound defense, and operates the offense on the other end, he became an All-SEC performer at Vandy. In 2021, he was viewed as a possible mid-first-round pick, but after going undrafted, Pippen Jr. caught on with the Lakers after playing well in the summer league and signed a two-way contract. If Bronny is even in the vicinity of Pippen, he’ll be drafted, possibly in the first round by a franchise thirsty for LeBron’s ink on a contract.

Bryce is still an amorphous ball of clay. Physically, he’s the mirror of a teenage LeBron. He already hovers over Bronny, with his gangly arms connected to a slender 6-foot-6 frame. He is also just a rising sophomore who spent last season hoopin’ for Sierra Canyon’s JV team. He’s got a long road ahead of him before NBA speculation ramps up.

However, if odds bounce in Bryce’s favor, he won’t reach the league until LeBron is at least 41. At that point, NBA general managers will have to weigh the allure of old man LeBron as more of Wizards-era Jordan and part-time manager for Bronny and Bryce than a championship spark.

As one general manager told Ballard, “You’re talking about arguably the greatest player ever, so no forecasting model exists,”

“[LeBron] has defied everything. For most players, you might predict a 10% decline per year at that age, but I’m not sure you can say that for him. The 40-year-old version of him might be incredible.”

As for Bronny, the fascination with his college choice has been raging for years. Most recently, a report from The Athletic’s Joe Vardon says that Bronny has narrowed his options down to the G-League, Australia, and college hoops. The need to report anything on Bronny is so intense that Vardon felt it was worth reporting that Bronny’s only three post-high school options are what he’d narrowed his final choices down to. Maybe that report would have had a little more value if it shared which college Bronny would be choosing if he went the NCAA path by asking his mother.

Savannah disclosed to Ballard that Bronny would prefer a college career. “I think it would be really cool for him to start with collegiate basketball, just to start his legacy there,” she said. Given his status as arguably “the most famous high school basketball player” ever, he’ll at least be able to take advantage of the million-dollar NIL opportunities that stars have begun reeling in.

LeBron has always understood how to manipulate the media to his advantage. First, there was “The Decision.” Seven years ago, LeBron’s cover story with SI’s Lee Jenkins and his “I’m Coming Home” proclamation tilted the NBA world on its axis. In 2022, he’s doing it again. Bronny and Bryce’s stock has been trending up, but as the consummate businessman, LeBron is manipulating their stock upward in a savvy manner. 



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.