Two points, 12,000 fans and a mountain of hype: Bronny James hits Dallas

Updated: December 2, 2019

7:00 AM ET

DALLAS — “Do something with it, Baby Bron!” a man yelled from the crowd.

“We need to see it!” a frustrated spectator shouted as the kid they all came to see missed his first two shots, an errant layup and a 3-pointer that crashed off the backboard. “You ain’t got one all day!”

When he ran onto the court with his teammates before the game, the crowd collectively rose and turned into paparazzi, snapping pictures with their smartphones.

“It’s him!” a young man sitting courtside said when he saw him. “It’s LeBron James‘ son!”

The energized crowd of 12,000 filled an NBA venue on a holiday weekend to see a prince, seeking the signs of future excellence that are supposed to come with his lineage. A dunk. A crazy block. A no-look pass. Anything that proved his connection to perhaps the greatest player in the history of the sport, a four-time NBA MVP who still dominates the league at age 34.

Instead, the crowd witnessed an understandably shaky performance by 15-year-old Bronny James, a high school freshman playing in an NBA arena for the first time in his career as part of one of America’s best varsity rosters.

With 6:08 to play in the first quarter Saturday, Bronny checked into Sierra Canyon (California) High School’s 66-63 win against Duncanville (Texas) in the Thanksgiving Hoopfest at American Airlines Center.

Against Duncanville, the defending 6A state champion in Texas, Bronny showed an inexperience that comes with his age. He was beaten off the dribble by faster, older guards. He lacked the strength to tussle for loose balls against more physically mature college prospects. He committed back-to-back turnovers as the pressure picked up in the second half. He couldn’t find a rhythm from the 3-point line. And when the game got tight, Bronny sat on the bench. He earnestly tried to impact the game but finished with two points.

But amid the literal and figurative noise, the more fascinating scene was watching the teenager ignore everything that surrounded him. Bronny never looked up at the crowd, one that included a who’s who of interested bystanders: scouts and coaches, such as Texas Tech’s Chris Beard; rapper Yella Beezy and his young son, wearing matching diamond necklaces in the front row; Dwyane Wade, whose son Zaire also plays for Sierra Canyon, shouting encouragement from his courtside seat as a DJ poked fun at middle-aged men who danced to tracks from DaBaby, Migos and City Girls. It felt like a Dallas nightclub came to life at a high school basketball game.

“He’s like a regular 15-year-old. Goofy. He plays video games.”

Terren Frank, Sierra Canyon forward, on teammate James

But James didn’t seem affected by them or the thousands of other eyeballs locked onto his every move. He just played basketball. He clapped loudly after big plays. He encouraged his teammates to shoot when they had space on the perimeter. He held back Amari Bailey, Sierra Canyon’s top-10 sophomore, when it appeared Bailey might start a fight.

“He’s like a regular 15-year-old,” Terren Frank, Sierra Canyon’s TCU-bound senior, said of James. “Goofy. He plays video games.”

James might be a regular teenager. The scrutiny that surrounds him, however, is without precedent. It’s not an exaggeration to say we’ve never seen anything like the hype surrounding LeBron James’ son at this stage of a player’s high school career — even his famous father’s. As a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, the older James was a USA Today first-team All-American. He earned all-state honors as a wide receiver that year too. There was attention, including a famous Sports Illustrated cover, but nothing like the scene that followed the younger James to Dallas.

Thanksgiving Hoopfest organizer Glenn Smith, a former U.S. Air Force captain and local attorney, said he moved the prep hoops extravaganza from a local high school to the home of the Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago, after tickets sold out in 48 minutes. He said officials from American Airlines Center asked him “what it would take to get this event,” and the parties moved quickly to accommodate the demand. Some of the floor seats sold for more than $200.

Wherever James walked, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound rock of a human being wearing an earpiece followed. His name is Sosa. He’s friendly with familiar faces but stoic when he encounters strangers or potential threats to the safety of the most recognizable non-NBA basketball player in the country.

“We needed someone who could move some weight around if we needed him to,” a Sierra Canyon source said of Sosa’s presence with the team, an unprecedented move for the school and likely for all of high school basketball.