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WESTFIELD, Ind. — Nobody puts LeBron in the corner.
They tried it Saturday, and it didn’t last long. The organizers of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League tournament here meant well when they cleared out a corner by Court 8 in the sprawling Pacers Athletic Center. They wanted to give LeBron James, America’s foremost Little League Dad, some space to watch his 14-year-old son, Bronny, play for California-based Strive For Greatness against Michigan-Based Bates Fundamentals, led by top Class of 2022 prospect Emoni Bates.
Beefy security guys outfitted with earpieces and blue T-shirts set up two rows of chairs for the LeBrontourage. They shooed the media off the baseline. They got everything arranged for a peaceful spectator experience — except that King James couldn’t see the scoreboard, which was over his head.
So he kept standing up and walking out to check the score. After a while he just stayed out there — sometimes on the court itself, sometimes on the sideline by the team bench. By the second half he had pretty much taken over, adding another layer to a scene unlike any 15-and-under AAU game ever.
LeBron was into it like this was the NBA Playoffs.
He coached his son’s team every bit as much as the actual coaches, occasionally telling the two guys supposedly in charge what to do. (Now they know how David Blatt, Tyronn Lue and Luke Walton felt — and they might be just as expendable.) LeBron wasn’t just coaching up his own son. He was coaching up all the players.
He walked the sideline giving post-up advice, instructing defenders, calling traps and directing inbounds plays. On a couple of occasions he hectored the officials (“That is not a travel!” he barked). He did a quick cameo as an athletic trainer, talking to a player about his quadricep while the kid was working on an issue with his right leg. He even did some baseline security work, chiding people for getting too close when a player went sprawling out of bounds into the throng that surrounded the court.
He did everything but drive the team van.
When Bronny hit a jumper and was fouled, LeBron flexed and yelled, “Annnnnddddd onnnneeee! And one, boy!” When a Strive For Greatness player was called for a foul, LeBron implored him not to play defense with his hands. When the team was playing out the final seconds of a 20-point victory, LeBron told his son to dribble out the clock: “No shot. No shot.”
It was over the top, but also hilarious and endearing. Any other parent would be evicted from the premises for such a performance, but this isn’t any other parent. This is LeBron James, who knows just a little about the game.
While Bronny was by no means the best player on the floor — that was Bates, who hung a jaw-dropping 43 points on the board — he showed a high level of skill for a 14-year-old. The 6-foot-2 guard doesn’t have his father’s imposing size or overpowering athleticism, but he does possess a smooth shooting stroke and handle. Bronny scored 11 points while forcing nothing.
At times Bronny lacked assertiveness, playing like a kid who is afraid to make a mistake. That’s understandable when your dad is one of the two greatest players in the history of the sport — and is in the gym living and dying on every possession.
LeBron looked like a guy who desperately misses being a part of the playoffs and has an untapped reservoir of competitive energy to expend. He might also be missing the attention currently being heaped upon Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others instead of him. For all the hypervigilance directed toward giving LeBron his space here Saturday, he hardly tried to keep a low profile.
Perhaps sensing the unprecedented nature of the game, with a crowd that dwarfed the action at the other seven courts simultaneously in action, both teams gathered to take a postgame picture together. LeBron slapped hands with a few Nike folks — including EYBL director Carlton DeBose, who was thrust into the crosshairs of controversy last month by lawyer Michael Avenatti — and prepared to leave.
On the way out, he stuck a hand inside a gaggle of reporters to congratulate the transcendent Bates, who some think might be the best high-school prospect since James himself.
“Good job, boy,” LeBron said.
Then he was gone, whisked out a side door by security. If the most famous Little League Dad in America comes back for more on Sunday, a word of advice to the EYBL folks: Don’t put him in the corner. He won’t stay there anyway.
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