July 13, 2024


The Intersection of Information and Insight

Bronny James’ USC basketball debut was just the beginning of a unique story

3 min read

Bronny James played in a college basketball game on Sunday, and now comes the fascinating part. He’s a teenager burdened by his birth certificate. He’s months removed from cardiac arrest. He is, without much exaggeration, the scion of new American royalty. And he tucked in his white USC jersey and walked onto the Galen Center floor to a standing ovation in the middle of a December afternoon, revealed and unsheltered, instantly compelled to figure out who he is in the full view of the world.

It’s OK to watch. It’s OK to be interested. Now is actually very much the time for that.

These were the first lines of a deeply and uniquely intriguing story, or at least the part of it that gets good. Before, he kind of existed as a character. The prince glimpsed from the balcony. Now there are 16 minutes and one made shot and a competitive disaster of an overtime loss to Long Beach State, and all of it serves to ratify LeBron Raymone James Jr. in a way mixtapes and myths and social media posts can’t. He is real and out front, bearing the weight of blood and expectation in public. He has a lot to handle from here.

And he is anyone’s business if anyone cares to pay attention.

Which they will do. In apparently preposterous numbers.

Lines of fans snaking around the arena and down the street, hours before tipoff Sunday. Courtside seats on the secondary market for roughly the price of a used car. Still, all of it was speculation. Prospecting. Shoving a pan in the river and hoping something shiny comes of it. Everyone had an idea about Bronny James, but probably not a lot to go on that was substantial and real.

That changed around 1:19 p.m. local time on December 10, 2023.

“Look who’s coming to the scorer’s table,” play-by-play announcer Jacob Tobey intoned to whomever could find the Pac-12 Network this weekend. Dad stood up and pulled out his phone and started recording. It was an undeniably triumphant human moment; the kid who collapsed at practice in late July, who had a congenital heart defect no one knew about and who stared down a life without basketball, checked into his first college game. Worth the price of admission — well, maybe some prices of admission — all by itself.

It is also surely true that people filled the gym and tuned into the broadcast not to watch Bronny James return but to arrive.

An unreasonable ask, and a reminder that there will be nothing reasonable about this.

James was good, under the circumstances. “Very solid,” as Trojans coach Andy Enfield put it afterward. Three rebounds. Two assists. Two steals. One chase-down block to add to the family stockpile. And, unavoidably, a missed free throw in the final minute that essentially made it easier for Long Beach State to take the game to overtime.

He looked like a player who could be a very nice addition. He left everyone wondering just who he will be.

That is what’s real now. Bronny James is essentially the progeny of modern American aristocracy, doing his particular duty in plain sight. Noblesse, obliged. He could be what Michael Jordan’s kids never were. What Gigi Bryant never had the chance to be. He could be something entirely different and all his own. Whatever happens will be the product of an immense and unfair and inevitable life now lived with more people watching and waiting than ever before.

Sunday wasn’t a culmination, even if it felt like one. It was the beginning of a deeply and uniquely intriguing story. Or at least the part where it gets good.

(Photo of Bronny James waiting to catch the ball as LeBron James looks on: Katelyn Mulcahy / Getty Images)

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