LeBron James’s immediate goal is to win another N.B.A. championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. But longer term, he wants to play in the league with his older son, LeBron Jr., who goes by Bronny, beginning in 2024.
“I need to be on the floor with my boy,” James told ESPN in January, recalling a situation from his childhood in which Ken Griffey and his son, Ken Griffey Jr., played for the Seattle Mariners. “I got to be on the floor with Bronny.”
Bronny James, a 6-foot-3 guard, kept that goal on track Saturday by verbally committing to playing college basketball next season at the University of Southern California. He was seated at courtside Saturday night as the Lakers took a 2-1 lead in their Western Conference semifinal series with the Golden State Warriors.
“First of all, congratulations to my son on his next journey and picking a great university in U.S.C.,” LeBron James said after posting 21 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists as the Lakers won Game 3, 127-97, in Los Angeles. “I’m proud of him. This is an incredible thing.”
LeBron James added that he believed Bronny would be the first member of his family, the “first one out of the James gang,” to attend college.
Bronny James made his announcement on Instagram, where he has more than seven million followers. His account had a picture of him standing in the Southern California locker room along with the caption “Fight On #committed.” U.S.C. is sponsored by Nike, which has invested heavily in his father since he entered the N.B.A. as a generational phenom in 2003.
At U.S.C., Bronny James plans to join a Sierra Canyon classmate, Juju Watkins, the top-rated girls’ prospect in the senior class. Both players have endorsement deals with Nike, and Bronny James also has one with Beats by Dre.
Memphis and Ohio State, the school LeBron has said he would have attended had he gone to college instead of going straight to the N.B.A. from high school as the No. 1 overall pick, were among the other universities linked to Bronny James. He visited Ohio State with his father in September, and fans at the football game that weekend chanted, “We want Bronny.”
Bronny James had less fanfare as a prospect than his father did (of course, few high school players get the treatment LeBron James had). He is ranked as a four-star prospect by the recruiting site 247Sports, which rates him as the No. 26 prospect in the senior class.
He won’t be the highest-ranked recruit for U.S.C. That honor belongs to Isaiah Collier, a five-star prospect from Marietta, Ga., who is rated as the No. 1 point guard in the class.
Still, Collier was busy recruiting Bronny James during the recent showcase circuit.
“‘Stay home,’ that’s my pitch,” Collier told reporters at the Nike Hoop Summit last month in Portland, Ore., where both players competed. “Why leave L.A.?”
The book so far on Bronny James is that he has a keen basketball I.Q. and an improved jump shot, but that he lacks elite athleticism. He averaged 14 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.8 steals per game last season at Sierra Canyon, but was a second-team all-league selection.
“He’s solid,” said Thaddeus Young, who finished his 16th N.B.A. season and sponsored a grass-roots team that competed against James at last summer’s Nike Peach Jam. His assessment was largely echoed by college coaches and N.B.A. scouts. “Obviously, probably not the elite of the elite. But he’s athletic, he’s strong, he plays defense, he can shoot the ball well, he can run the point guard position, he can play off ball,” he said.
Still, some colleges were wary of recruiting Bronny James. There were multiple factors in play for any coach that considered taking him. What happens if he doesn’t play well enough to merit significant playing time? What if the team does well but he struggles? What if the team doesn’t do well at all? How will security and locker room access be handled when LeBron James and his wife, Savannah, attend games? Considering Bronny has significant potential for individual endorsement deals, will there be added pressure to play him?
Bronny James, who turns 19 in October, is widely expected to spend one season in college before entering the N.B.A. draft in 2024, when his father will turn 40. Under the league’s current rules, players cannot enter the draft until they are 19 and one year removed from their high school graduation class. That rule was renewed in a recent collective bargaining agreement between the N.B.A. players’ union and team owners, despite some campaigning in college sports for athletes to be able to turn pro right out of high school.
LeBron James was asked on Saturday if it remained his goal to play alongside his son.
“We’re going to support him whatever he decides to do,” he said. “Because that’s my aspiration and my goal doesn’t mean it’s his. And I’m absolutely OK with that. My job is to support my son, whatever he wants to do.”
Bronny James is projected as an N.B.A. lottery pick by some draft experts. The Lakers, however, do not have a first-round pick in 2024, and LeBron has a player option for the 2024-25 season.
That all makes it unclear how Bronny James can end up on the same team as his famous father.
Sopan Deb contributed reporting from Los Angeles.