The inbound pass had no shot of getting by Bronny James. With 56 seconds left in Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High’s game against Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary, James deflected the ball, stole it and raced up the court for a go-ahead layup.
His dad stood in front of his courtside seat and bounced up and down with a grin. One fan watched him and mused that LeBron James looked like a child.
Saturday certainly took him back to the days of his youth.
“It was a great day,” James told The Times, wearing a joyful expression. “Like I said, to be able to see my son play for the first time in high school ball against my former team, versus my mentor, father figure coach Dru, in front of all our family. ... And then for him to make probably the biggest play of the game with the steal and the layup to take the lead ... kind of surreal moment.”
Sierra Canyon beat James’ alma mater 59-56 in front of nearly 15,000 fans. Playing in front of a crowd that was mostly partial to the Ohio team, Sierra Canyon’s star freshman had his best game of the season. He made the game-defining play and scored 15 points to earn most valuable player.
“He’s realizing that he’s a good player in his own right separate from his father,” Sierra Canyon coach Andre Chevalier said. “Really this was Bronny’s coming out party. This was his best game all year and the more he played well, you saw his confidence growing every minute.”
Saturday’s was the first Sierra Canyon game LeBron James was able to attend. Their previous games all conflicted with the Lakers’ schedule, relegating James to watching them through live streams on his tablet or phone.
“If you ask me what’s been the only sucky thing about this season so far, is that my son has played like six games into his freshman year and I haven’t seen one,” James said before the game. “I love what I do. I don’t take this for granted. This is a dream come true. But missing my son, you know Bron Jr., missing Bryce’s first game the other day when we left for Orlando, his first game of the season. Missing my daughter at gymnastics and things of that nature, and I understand the business, but it sucks.”
James’ Lakers teammates have enjoyed seeing how excited he gets remotely.
“It’s a great time for him,” Anthony Davis said after Friday’s win in Miami. “Kind of reliving his past watching his son play, go through everything. All the media and all the games they play on TV. … It’s fun for him but it’s fun for us to see him excited to watch his son play. We try to watch the games when he’s watching it and just enjoy it with him.”
James flew to Columbus from Miami on the team’s day off. By the time he landed, Sierra Canyon was already preparing for its big game. The Trailblazers had a shootaround Saturday morning, then study hall before meeting up to head to Nationwide Arena around 7 p.m.
When he landed, James met childhood friends for dinner. All five starters from his state championship team made it to the game.
“We’ve been together since we were 8 years old,” James said after the game. “Almost 30 years of existence together, so for us to be able to come together, have a dinner, talk about life, family, everything, it’s pretty cool.”
James’ mother, Gloria, arrived close to 8 p.m., just as Sierra Canyon was heading out to the floor for warmups. She called for Bronny and he walked over to embrace his grandmother.
James, his wife and his daughter arrived closer to the start of the game. As he made his way onto the court, a crowd of fans pointing phones at him followed. James took his seat, but jumped out of it often. When he did, the cameras found him.
Nostalgia permeated the arena. Lee Wolf and Jim Sansonetti called out each statistic recorded by St. Vincent-St. Mary players. They are the official stat keepers for the school and have been doing it for 18 years, starting with James’ senior year.
“This is kind of like deja vu,” said Wolf, who wore a 2017 state championship ring.
That feeling was more acute for Dru Joyce Jr., the St. Vincent-St. Mary coach who coached James too.
“It makes you understand you’re growing older when you’re coaching against former players’ sons,” Joyce said. “Bronny’s making his own legacy. He played very, very well. I was kind of looking at him. I wanted to say something to him in the moment, Bron kind of caught my eye, and we smiled about it.”
Joyce was impressed by Bronny’s poise and chuckled when asked about James’ lack of it. The proud father paced and yelled. He nervously checked the clock after Sierra Canyon cut the lead to one.
James explained after the game: “Super nervous the whole time. I got no control over the outcome!”
Once the game ended, James lingered on the court. He found Joyce for a few words. He took photos with Bronny and with his former high school teammates.
Then he left the arena while the rest of his family stayed back. James left immediately to fly to Atlanta to rejoin his team. Although the Lakers listed James as questionable for Sunday’s game, he didn’t talk like a man with anything wrong.
“I’m great,” James said. “I’m always great.”