When the 14-year-old eighth-grader stole the ball and ended the play with a dunk early in the third quarter on Monday, dad gave him a standing ovation from his seat behind the bench.
LeBron James Jr., known as Bronny, made his middle school debut for Santa Monica Crossroads on Monday afternoon, and his father looked pleased. Bronny drew his first ovation from dad early in the game with an assist. Bronny finished with 27 points in Crossroads’ 61-48 victory over Culver City Middle School before some 100 people in the Crossroads gym.
Crossroads officials have been protective about Bronny from the moment his father decided to enroll his son at the school after he signed with the Lakers. Athletic director Ira Smith did not advertise the game over social media and turned away some media that wanted to cover it. He said the school plans to discourage use of video and use of social media at home games.
“The goal for everyone is let him be a 14-year-old eighth-grader,” Smith said.
When Crossroads plays in road games, however, Smith understands there will be few options on limiting media interest, and you can expect the cameras to be out en force, especially to capture someone who can dunk.
“I told him my job is to protect the madness for as long as I can,” Smith said of his message to Bronny’s father.
There is no doubt the madness is coming. Bronny made three three-pointers and is clearly headed to elite status as a player. But he really is an eighth-grader, goofing around with friends, smiling after knocking the ball away from a teammate during warmups and acknowledging his famous father who showed up 3½ minutes before the scheduled tipoff.
Bronny’s first high school game next season will be quite a moment. Crossroads already has the son of Shaquille O’Neal on varsity. If there’s an O’Neal and a James on the same court . . .
The question is how long Crossroads can maintain a level of normalcy for a middle school boy with big basketball aspirations. The school intends to try its best.