He had been here before. Many times. Twenty times, to be exact. He had talked about new teams. Old teams. Championship teams. When it comes to NBA Media Days, there was little LeBron James had not been quizzed about.
Until Monday. Sitting in front of a table inside the Lakers El Segundo practice facility, with the now familiar gold jersey tight across his chest, James addressed a subject he rarely gets into, at least not in this setting: His family.
“Nothing else matters besides my family,” James said. “And obviously, I'm going to dedicate this season [to] Bronny, because of the incident that happened this summer.”
The “incident” James referenced is the near tragedy on the USC campus, when James’s 18-year old son, Bronny, went into cardiac arrest on the Galen Center floor. It was a terrifying moment for any parent, one James was happy to report had a happy ending.
“Bronny is doing extremely well,” James said. “He has begun his rehab process to get back on the floor this season with his teammates and USC. And it was a successful surgery that he had. He's on the up and up.”
James spoke in a somber tone on Monday. He thanked the USC training staff for its quick work. “When the incident happened, they were Jimmy on the spot,” said James. He praised the specialists who worked to identify the problem. And he expressed amazement at how well Bronny has handled an overwhelming few months.
“It's definitely a whirlwind and a lot of emotions for our family this summer,” James said. “But the best thing we have is each other. And 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.”
For James, the future is a little more certain. There is stability in Los Angeles. The Lakers brought back the core of last season’s Western Conference finalist and added role players they think will enhance it. While James has long been a proponent of his teams taking big offseason swings, he sounded happy to have the band back together.
“I'm very optimistic about how we can pick up where we left off,” James said. “And I don't mean the [last] series. I mean from the trade deadline to how we played all the way up into the Western Conference Finals. I'm very optimistic on seeing how we can pick up from there … with the continuity, with the chemistry, there shouldn't be much teaching. Obviously, we're going to not waste any steps, we're not going to [cut] any corners but there should not be much teaching when it comes to us getting back on the floor.”
For the first time since L.A.’s championship season, James has a supporting cast that makes sense. Gone are the aging stars and plodding bigs. The Lakers rotation is loaded with athletic 20-somethings with room to grow. In Rui Hachimura, the 6-foot-8 wing acquired before last February’s trade deadline, James has found an eager student. “We worked out together pretty much all summer,” James said. “I call him my Daniel-san. And I'm Mr. Miyagi.”
At 38 and entering his 21st season, James has logged a lot of minutes. But the foot injury that dogged him in the second half of last season has healed. “It's been reacting very well in my offseason workouts,” James said. And after contemplating retirement at the end of last season, James says the fire has returned. He credits a stint coaching his youngest son, Bryce, in the Peach Jam tournament.
“They just play for the love of the game,” James said. “They were just out there competing and wanting to win and just putting everything on the line and had nothing to do about social media clicks or money or fame or none of that stuff … just seeing that, that kind of got me going a little bit.”
There is pressure. There always is. And the competition in a loaded Western Conference will be fierce. James has a player option for next season and has talked about playing into his 40’s. But at this stage he knows every year could be his last.
“I'm happy right now,” James said. “I'm excited. I'm looking forward to tomorrow and getting the training camp going. But I don't know what the end of this road looks like … I have no idea.”
He knows he’s healthy. “I feel pretty good with my energy,” James said. More importantly, he knows Bronny is too. “If he was to walk through the door right now, you wouldn't even know that he had what he had,” James said. Eventually Bronny will be back on the floor. James knows why he hinted at retirement. “Mentally I was in too many different places,” James said. Now, he says, he is in a good one.
“We’re all here for one common goal and that’s to win a championship,” James said. “But that’s months and months and months and months at the end of the road. The most important thing is how we can continue to get better and apply every step each and every day, each and every week, each and every month, to get to that goal. But it takes time.”