November 18, 2018, 19:42

Watching the Story of LeBron James, Jr., Unfold |

Watching the Story of LeBron James, Jr., Unfold |

Basketball fans like to scour the Web for highlights of stars we already
know. The pleasure of rewatching their most acrobatic feats is like the
satisfaction of rereading passages from a favorite book. But, to me—and,
presumably, to the half a million people who routinely watch each of his
videos—LeBron James, Jr., offers something different. It’s not only that
his story is unfinished, or even just beginning, but that it seems to
have two authors at once, each with a legacy to define. There’s the boy
himself, thirteen and already in possession of immense talents, and
there’s his father, perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time,
who, at thirty-three, continues to play like he’s in his prime. Other
sons of basketball stars have made the N.B.A., and a couple of
them—Steph Curry, son of Dell; Kobe Bryant, son of Joe—have become
superstars. But no one has so openly wrestled with his status as a hoops
legend like LeBron James has. It was inevitable, when his son started
playing, that the younger James would figure into the larger narrative.
Watching him feels like the start of the next chapter.

Sports journalists and college scouts have been touting Jr. as his
father’s son since before he reached middle school. Highlight reels
circulated online with clips of a boy of average height, spindly but
confident, heaving up a shot with two hands, or dunking on a mini-hoop
in a suburban driveway. Glimpses like these were enough to prompt one
newspaper headline to hail him, at twelve, as “a basketball clone of his
dad.” Duke and Kentucky reportedly expressed interest in his future
prospects. LeBron, Sr., sought to cool the hype at first, as any
sensible father would. “Right now, all I care about is him having fun,”
he said a few years ago. “He doesn’t need added pressure from his dad . . . . I’ll teach him when he gets old enough. I’ll wait till he gets
thirteen, fourteen.” At that point, James said, he would share with his
son what he called “the blueprint.”

Now that Jr. is old enough to access the master plan, the highlight
videos are multiplying. The clips reveal a versatile guard, big for his
age in both size and bearing, with an impressive handle and a smooth
jumper. The echoes of his father’s game are hard to miss. LeBron, Jr.,
slashes to the basket, springing past defenders with crafty spins and
beguiling hesitation moves. He shares the ball like his dad, with
one-handed bounce passes whipped from great distances, crisp dishes, and
creative finds in traffic. “He’s already a better passer than I was,”
James has said.

If it’s odd to lavish so much attention on such a young kid, it’s also
irresistible. When LeBron James was fourteen, he joined a local travel
team and played at a tournament, in Orlando, that marked the start of
his national ascension. “LeBron really separated himself,” his
then-coach said, in the documentary “More Than a Game.” “You could see
that he was the best player there.” By the time he was a junior in high
school, he’d led his team to two state championships, and he appeared on
the cover of Sports Illustrated. His high-school outings were
relocated to a nearby college gym to accommodate the crowds, and ESPN
broadcasted the games with a full assembly of analysts—from Bill Walton
to Dick Vitale—like they were college showdowns between top-tier teams.
“He’s the best high-school basketball player I’ve ever seen,” Jay Bilas
said, courtside, at one game. LeBron’s precocity aged him in some ways,
both flattering and
he entered the league as a mature player, then, before our eyes,
graduated to superstardom undiminished by the fact that everyone saw it

Are we watching his son too expectantly? Maybe, but a highlight reel
from the John Lucas All-Star
Weekend, posted this
month, suggests not. It’s easy to forget, while watching the player
here, that he’s only thirteen. His command on the floor is expressed
with an air of total nonchalance—enough to make his father seem like a
late bloomer. The same goes for a February video, shot at his school,
where he’s seen laying the ball in with grown-up English and tossing
shovel passes from
half-court. The
competition isn’t as stiff as in the other videos, where he plays with
his travel team, but he hardly seems to break a sweat.

If he were older, his future might have begun to take some discernible
shape, or at least to assume a more tangible trajectory. Zaire Wade,
whose father is the former LeBron teammate Dwyane Wade, is a sophomore
in high school, and is looking like a serious player; Shareef O’Neal,
son of Shaq, will play for U.C.L.A. next season. Their playing careers
are becoming their own; reality will soon temper our expectations, or
vindicate them. LeBron, Jr., is young enough for his future to look
limitless. And with his father still dominating, after fifteen years in
the pros, an absence of limits seems like part of the family

My favorite question to ponder, as I watch Jr. carve up helpless young
defenders, is whether his father is sharing with him some singular fount
of basketball wisdom. The James genes are clearly the key part of the
“blueprint,” but there’s a deeper code that father and son may have to
unlock together. To become a great player is hard enough, but for a son
to do it on his own terms, undimmed by the legacy of his dad, is
something else again. Maybe that explains the travel-team jersey number
of the younger James: zero, worn in honor of Russell Westbrook, one of
his father’s rivals.


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