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College Basketball

Bronny James Finally Gets To Be A Basketball Player

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 10: Bronny James #6 of the USC Trojans looks to catch the ball as LeBron James (R looks on ) from the stands during the first half against the Long Beach State 49ers at Galen Center on December 10, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

With 13 minutes left in the first half of his team's game against Long Beach State on Sunday, Bronny James Jr. stepped on the court for the first time as a USC player. He spent his first defensive possession guarding the point of attack, and as LBSU backup guard Jason Hart Jr. tried to get around him, James stuck to his hip, forced a deflection, and nearly galloped away with a fast-break steal. LBSU turned it over seconds later, and the crowd roared its approval while James's dad cheered him on from the sidelines. It was a fairly unremarkable play that felt remarkable, not just for who made it, but for what preceded it.

On July 24, James suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the court during a workout at USC. He spent three days in the hospital and underwent a procedure to repair a congenital heart defect, which his family said in a statement would not keep him from playing basketball. James went through warmups for the first time with USC on Nov. 19, and 10 days before the game, James was finally approved to return to the court. He practiced with the team twice before making his debut on Sunday.

"I just want to say I'm thankful for everything," James said to the press after the game. "Mayo Clinic, everything they helped me with, my parents, siblings for supporting me through this hard time in my life." James's debut was quite the spectacle, with the Galen Center packed with fans and students who spent hours lined up outside for the chance to see him play. Like the son of any NBA superstar, James's development has been heavily scrutinized, a natural sort of attention that only intensified since he started to distinguish himself as a prospect worth taking seriously in his last year of high school. It's frankly impossible to live up to the hype, though that feels less important now, since James being alive and on a basketball court is in itself an accomplishment.

James played 16 minutes on Sunday, which USC coach Andy Enfield said was within the bounds of his minutes restriction. USC lost, though James had a handful of cool highlights, most notably a slick interior pass and a chase-down block in the first half. It will be difficult to judge Bronny as his own player, and though he is significantly smaller than his father and plays in a different way, both the block and the no-look assist were LeBronesque. His defense and passing stood out on the prep circuit, and it's refreshing to see him showing flashes in his first game.

Most refreshing of all, of course, is the fact that he's playing at all, that he's healthy enough to be out there on the court doing stuff. The leading mock drafts, which projected James as a first-rounder earlier in 2023, have delisted him, which is no surprise. You don't get picked in the first round on name recognition alone, and teams will also want to see that he's healthy enough to play. He is, and now he has the opportunity to show what he can do.

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