Looking a lot like dad, Bronny James makes NBA Summer League debut

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Once that second-quarter layup went in and he finally had his first NBA points after a trio of misses, Bronny James could exhale and everything began to slow down.

He hardly expects to be perfect at this early stage of his professional career, and every touch and possession will provide an opportunity for growth and learning.

He sure felt the love and support Saturday, even playing in the Bay Area ruled by Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

“The atmosphere, it was more than I expected," a grinning James said. "It's a big game for me, but I didn't know the people of Golden State would come and rep for me, so that was pretty nice to see.”

Oversized headphones on his ears and dressed in full Lakers gold as he geared up for his NBA Summer League debut Saturday, the rookie looked so much like his famous father, LeBron, it caused some at Chase Center to do a double-take.

Down to their familiar mannerisms, facial expressions and the way they run or shuffle back on defense. Bronny James took his place in the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers and his professional career was formally underway, with plenty of scouts in the building to witness it as he wore jersey No. 9 — not to be confused with his dad's former 6 uniform he sported before switching to 23.

“Every first game that I step on the next level there's always some butterflies in my stomach, but as soon as the ball tips and we go a couple times down it all goes away and I'm just playing basketball,” he said. “It's always going to be there but get through it.”

The younger James wound up 2 for 9 for four points, missing all three of his 3s, with a pair of assists, two rebounds and a steal in just under 22 minutes of court time — 21:43 to be exact — as the Lakers lost 108-94 to the Sacramento Kings.

James missed his initial two shots while playing nearly six minutes in his first action — grabbing a defensive rebound 1 minute, 20 seconds into the game then missing a 21-foot jump shot moments later. He came up short on a 26-foot 3-point try at the 4:23 mark of the opening quarter before getting a breather.

There were cheers and a warm ovation when James returned to the court at the 8:17 mark of the second quarter. He was initially whistled for his first career foul on a 3-point attempt by Sacramento's Xavier Sneed on the right wing with 7:23 remaining, and James argued briefly before the play went to replay review and was overturned. James missed a 3 off the front rim from the top of the arc at 7:04.

Then, at last, James scored his first NBA points on a driving layup 5:51 before halftime.

“Moments like that can slow the game down for you especially because I wasn't as productive as I wanted to beforehand,” he said. “... I couldn’t get the 3-ball to fall, but all the reps it’s going to come more smooth.”

James missed a pair of free throws at the 4:43 mark of the third period in his first trip to the line.

At one point during his warmup routine, the 6-foot-2 guard stood with hands on hips in a resemblant position to one of his father. And during the game, the son leaned over by the baseline 3-point corner, gripping his knees while waiting for the offensive possession to begin.

The younger James was drafted by the Lakers with the 55th overall selection in the second round out of the University of Southern California.

He will get another chance to play Sunday, when the Lakers face the Warriors, again at the Chase Center. Coach Dane Johnson plans to give James plenty of chances to acclimate and gain valuable experience in the coming days and weeks.

“Hopefully he’ll play all the games, we’ll see how it goes,” Johnson said. “We’re going to try to integrate him and get him as many reps as we can. He needs more experience playing.”

Johnson applauded James' keen court awareness, noting, “we all know he has good instincts already, so finding the consistency within those he'll build as we keep going forward in the summer league and throughout the coming season. His instincts are there, we've just got to keep building habits.”

If all goes as planned, the 19-year-old James and his dad would become the first father-son pair to play in the NBA at the same time — and on the same team no less.

“What he does in the California Classic and Summer League, it doesn’t matter if he plays well and it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t play well," LeBron James said at USA Basketball's training camp in Las Vegas. "I just want him to continue to grow, practices, film sessions, his individual workouts. You can’t take anything as far as stat wise from the California Classic and Summer League and bring it once the season starts. The only thing that matters is him getting better and stacking days.”

Bronny is NBA career scoring leader LeBron's oldest son. He survived cardiac arrest last July 24 during an informal team workout at USC and it was later determined he had a congenital heart defect. The younger James signed a four-year contract that will pay him $7.9 million.

He will remind himself along the way to stay aggressive and “believe in myself knowing I can make plays for myself and my teammates.”

“Looking at my mistakes and looking at the things I did right is really good for me,” James said. “But also just game by game growing that comfort in my playing my game, I feel like that's a big part of why I come out here and get those reps in.”


AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.