LeBron James has made it known in the past few years that his last big goal is to share an NBA court with his son Bronny someday.
In the meantime, he’s sharing the court with a lot of other NBA sons – and it’s not as clear if he’s thrilled about it.
On Monday night against the Houston Rockets, NBA TV captured Jabari Smith Jr. approaching James in a break in the action, telling him that his father, Jabari Smith Sr., sat on the opposing bench in James’ first career NBA game in Sacramento in 2003. The 19-year-old smirked at his 38-year-old competitor: “You feel old, don’t you?”
Replied a laughing James: “Why’d you do that to me?”
It’s an increasingly frequent occurrence these days for James, who is grinding through his 20th NBA season and is within a stone’s throw of the all-time scoring record. During his post-game press conference, James noted that he was also playing against Kenyon Martin Jr. in the same game, and he’s played against Gary Trent Jr. and Gary Payton II. He has played against as many as eight pairs of fathers and sons during his two-decade NBA career, a fact that seemed to make James weary as he discussed it.
“It made me feel extremely old when Junior told me that,” James said. “I’ve just been extremely blessed to be able to play this game and to be able to touch multiple generations. … It’s just a unique thing that I’ve been able to withstand the test of time for as long as I’ve been playing, to be able to compete now versus father-and-son combinations.“
James noted that Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who played an NFL playoff game on Monday night at the age of 45, has seen similar circumstances, going against NFL cornerbacks whose fathers used to play against him. Added James: “I’m just trying to keep up with the Bradys I guess. Not the Joneses.”
James, however, has arguably been in a league of his own for the last month. Since Anthony Davis got hurt on Dec. 16, James has averaged 34.3 points on 55.9% shooting, including 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists. The Lakers have outscored opponents by 115 points in his 507 minutes across 14 games. The only area where he’s noticeably been performing below average – 3-point shooting – was a strength against Houston: He went 5 for 10 from deep.
“It’s amazing to see,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “He wants to win. We all want to win. And he’s willing to do whatever it takes. If it requires him just scoring 20 points, or the teens with a triple-double, or score 40 or 50, he’s just there to fill whatever hole there is that we may be experiencing in the moment. So he just continues to be great. We just gotta try to keep him in bubble wrap and keep it going.”
After the game, James visited with Jabari Smith Sr., 45, and embraced him on the court. Smith Jr. was born just months before James made his NBA debut against his dad. Apparently, the moment was heart-warming for the son, who was the third overall pick in the 2022 draft.
“Will never forget the smile on my dad’s face (100%),” Smith wrote on Twitter, “one of the best days of my life.”
WESTBROOK’S FLAP WITH COACHES WAVED OFF
In a season-and-a-half with the Lakers, Russell Westbrook has had his share of sideline demonstrations of frustration, but rarely one so close to reporters.
NBA TV reported that at the close of the first half, Westbrook repeatedly directed comments at the coaching staff that they, the coaches, had to be better. Sideline reporter Jared Greenberg was feet away from the interaction, which also involved James and assistant coach Phil Handy.
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The dust-up was odd for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the Lakers were rallying: They increased their lead from five points to 12 in the final 2:40 of the first half. Notably, Westbrook was not in the game for that stretch.
Westbrook later passed it off as a run-of-the-mill dialogue: “I didn’t get into it with anybody. But obviously people are going to perceive it as they want to. Just voicing my opinion and that’s about it.”
Greenberg reported that Handy’s retort was, “We all have to be better, Russ.” Ham also characterized the interaction as normal for the Lakers – perhaps the one big difference being that Westbrook sounded off so close to a reporter.
“I think it was minutes,” Ham said of Westbrook’s issue. “My coaches, they do a hell of a job of keeping a lot of stuff hidden from me and off my plate. So, I trust them to handle things and, like I said, it’s just guys communicating. It’s nothing toxic or anything like that.”