May 28, 2024

The toughest Laker went tender.

“Nothing else matters besides my family,” he said.

The towering Laker took a knee.

“No matter what’s going on in your life … the only thing that matters is your family,” he repeated.

LeBron James has been many things in his five seasons with the Lakers; a star, a distraction, a leader, a whiner, a legend, a pain.

At the Lakers media day Monday, he was something else entirely, something which he says has inspired him to return for his 21st season.

He was a father.

In discussing both his oldest son Bronny and his youngest son Bryce, he gave Los Angeles a rare glimpse into his devotion to his tight family unit. It is a trait that, except for those moments when he’s been seen on the sidelines of his sons’ basketball games, has mostly existed behind the thick walls of privacy. Yet it is one of the biggest reasons he moved here, and certainly the biggest reason he would stay here.

He is, first and foremost, a family man. One could see it in his pain, and feel it in his relief.

“The best thing we have is each other,” he said.

He was being asked about Bronny, a 19-year-old USC freshman who suffered cardiac arrest this summer during a team workout in an incident probably caused by a congenital heart defect.

His answer was heavy but hopeful. He said Bronny was doing well, that he had undergone successful surgery, and that he was working toward returning to the court for the Trojans this season.

“It’s definitely a whirlwind and a lot of emotions for our family this summer,” he said. “But … we stuck behind each other and gave Bronny strength throughout the whole process and we’re happy to see where he is today and we look forward to seeing what his future still has in store for him.”

LeBron James walks across the court at the Lakers' training facility in El Segundo during media day.

LeBron James makes his way across the court at the Lakers’ training facility in El Segundo during media day.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

His own future, James said, will include a rare tribute to his son.

“Obviously I’m going to dedicate this season to Bronny because of the incident that happened this summer,” he said.

He then explained himself as only a father can.

“So to see what he had to go through or what he’s been through over the last few months, it’s been a lot,” he said of Bronny. “I can only imagine how it’s been for him because it’s been a lot for me, it’s been a lot for our family. But the man above has definitely given us a lot of strength and has given Bronny the strength to bounce back.”

Remember, this was the child that James once said would accompany him to his final NBA stop. LeBron, 38, said he would attempt to join whatever team drafted Bronny, 19, next summer so they could play together. Those plans have clearly been put on hold. These days, James said he is thrilled just to see Bronny alive and active.

“And if he was to walk through the door right now, you wouldn’t even know that he had what he had because of how well he’s moving, how vibrant he is,” he said. “It’s just a beautiful thing to be able to have him where he is today.”

A beautiful thing, indeed. And beautiful words from a man who rarely gets this personal.

“I give the biggest compliment and the biggest shout-out and the biggest praise to the USC training staff and coaching staff,” James said. “When the incident happened, they were Jimmy on the spot. They didn’t waste no time and they were amazing in their efforts to make sure that our son was very well taken care of and also Cedars-Sinai as well. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. And anybody else who had anything to do with his recovery. It’s been an amazing thing.”

He finished talking about Bronny’s emergency, but he was not finished talking about his sons. The man who hinted at retirement last spring said Monday that it was family that inspired him to stay at least for one more season. James has a player option after this season, and could use that clause to either change teams or receive a new contract or just as an excuse to retire.

Whatever happens, with Bronny a freshman at USC and Bryce a junior at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High, it’s clear he doesn’t want to stray too far from home.

“I had a conversation with my family, conversation with myself, getting inspired once again from my kids,” he said. “Being in the AAU circuit with Bryce. Seeing how he continues to grow his individual game. Being extremely proud of Bronny. Being able to go off to USC and see where he was before, obviously, the incident. Inspired by that. And then I feel like I got a lot more in the tank to give.”

James said he was specifically recharged by coaching Bryce’s AAU team.

“I know what kinda got me outta the funk, though, was coaching Bryce’s team down in August for Peach Jam,” he said of a summer tournament in North Augusta, S.C. “Just seeing the love and just seeing the — they just play for the love of the game. And being around all of those kids with our AAU program, they were just out there competing and just wanting to win. It had nothing to do with social media clicks or money or fame or none of that stuff. They were just playing to be able to put themselves in a position to possibly win Peach Jam. … Just seeing that, that kind of got me going a little bit.”

And so he goes into another season happy yet humbled, excited but appreciative, the priorities of one of basketball’s greatest champions revealed by that frightening moment that almost took his son.

“Understanding that, it just puts everything in perspective,” he said.

So in his first address of the season, LeBron James didn’t talk much about winning. He spent most of his time talking about parenting. A nice perspective indeed.

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