FOX Sports NBA Writer
It was an emotional day for LeBron James.
His son Bronny announced on Instagram that he was committed to playing for USC on Saturday hours before the Los Angeles Lakers would beat the Golden State Warriors 127-97 in Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinals series.
For James, direct from St. Vincent-St. Mary High into the NBA when he was 18 meant Bronny would be a trailblazer poised to achieve something deeply meaningful for his family.
“Unless it was one of my great-grandmothers or great-grandfathers or someone way before my time, this is the first of the James gang to go to college that I know of,” James said. “Obviously his father didn’t go to school. His mother didn’t go to college.”
In fact, James noted that his mother, Gloria, who gave birth to him when he was 16, probably prevented her from going to college.
“I think my mom might have stepped onto campus for a little bit, maybe a community college or something,” James said. “But she had my little butt walking around, so at 19 she couldn’t spend much time in the classroom. She couldn’t do that, I was 3. So it’s very, very, very, very exciting. Very humiliating. And a great moment for our family.”
James, who has long announced his goal of playing alongside his son in the NBA, is one step closer to realizing his dream.
But the celebration of Bronny’s decision would have to wait. First, he had to contend with the defending champions, who had beaten their team by 27 points just two days earlier to end the streak 1-1.
James needed a stroke to find his rhythm on Saturday. Perhaps he was distracted by the much-anticipated news of his eldest child. Maybe he was shaking off an emotional hangover from the excitement. In the first quarter he remained goalless. Actually shotless.
But now he finally has a team equipped to shoulder some of the burden.
D’Angelo Russell scored 13 in the first quarter with a 5-for-7 shooting and scored 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. Anthony Davis added eight of his eventual 25 points during that time. It meant James didn’t have to push. He could let the game come to him.
And of course it did.
James finished the tournament with 21 points in 6-for-11 shooting, eight rebounds, eight assists, one blocked shot and no turnover.
He drove to the basket with force and split the defenders. He made two 3-pointers. He defended tenaciously and even once chased a pass to Andrew Wiggins with such frantic pace and power that he had to leap over the heads of the pitchside fans and sprint up a few steps before he could apply the brakes on his 250. pound frame.
“You see a guy like that in Year 20, you know, of course, a first-choice Hall of Famer, top-5 dead or alive that’s ever played in the NBA,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Seeing him do the little things, just shielding him, picking up the pace, finding teammates, defending, rebounding just makes it easier for those other guys to do it.”
James’ intensity helped turn the tide for the Lakers.
After the Warriors took an 11-point lead early on, the Lakers held them to just 18 points in the second quarter, using a 22-2 run to run away with the game.
What happened on Saturday was the difference for James, Davis and the Lakers this season. After gaining five new players by the trade deadline, they don’t have to worry about trying to carry the entire load, the entire game
The Lakers have depth. Any night, Russell can make a barrage of 3-pointers, Austin Reaves can catch fire, or Jarred Vanderbilt can get hot.
It allowed James to play his game.
“For me, I’m never a ‘force’ guy,” James said. “I’ve always been a guy who let the game come to me and make my impression when needed.”
Now the Lakers have a 2-1 lead in the series with Game 4 scheduled for Monday. In a series that featured a tight game and two wild blowouts, this was the ultimate chess match between some of the league’s biggest superstars. The warriors will make adjustments. The Lakers will try to forestall them.
James knows what’s coming next.
But even as he’s intensely focused on winning his fifth title, he couldn’t help but take a moment to celebrate the incredible personal victory for his family.
“I’m proud of him,” James said of Bronny, who is considered one of the top five point guards in the country. “It’s an incredible thing.”
Bronny sat on the sidelines on Saturday and cheered for his father.
If everything goes according to James’ plan, it won’t be long before they’re in the same uniform, surrounded by 19,000 fans cheering them on.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
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