Bronny James, Shedeur Sanders and when a father’s love is a sledgehammer

Home » Bronny James, Shedeur Sanders and when a father’s love is a sledgehammer
Bronny James, Shedeur Sanders and when a father’s love is a sledgehammer

I have watched with great fascination as LeBron James and Deion Sanders deftly guide their sons through the sports landscape with the goal of having them land in the NBA and the NFL, respectively.

They are involved in different sports and are at different points of their lives, but their approach to parenting is intriguing.

Sanders is an NFL Hall of Famer and football coach at the Colorado, where he coaches his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders. Los Angeles Lakers forward James, a Basketball Hall of Famer in waiting, is one of the greatest players in NBA history. His son Bronny played one undistinguished season of basketball at USC.

On Thursday, the journey to the pros materialized for the James family when Bronny James was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 55th pick on Day 2 of the draft. Never in NBA draft history has a second-round draftee been the object of so much scrutiny. But then, never has the 55th pick been the son of one of the greatest players of all time.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (left) and his son Bronny James (right) talk during the game against the Golden State Warriors on Oct. 13, 2023, at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Bronny James’ selection was one of the most telegraphed moves in draft history, and one more reflection of his father’s influence. On June 20, LeBron James helped to engineer the hiring of a new Lakers coach. Now he’s used his prestige, influence and considerable muscle to make sure his Lakers drafted his son and paved the way for a historic pairing.

LeBron and Bronny James will become the first father-son duo as active players in NBA history. They will also become the first father-son teammates. Many have framed this as a heartwarming story of a 39-year-old dad prolonging his career so he could play with his 19-year-old son. I tend to see this as less about fatherly love than about daddy using power and muscle to create a manufactured history.

The drama is only beginning. There will be summer league, training camp and then the magical moment when Bronny throws a history-making lob to his father for a dunk and a thundering ovation from the crowd. Whether this moment was earned or created is less important than the event itself.

I’ll certainly plan to be there, because that’s what journalists do: We record the moment, real or contrived.

But in the ethos of competitive sports, where merit truly matters, I wonder whether LeBron James — in his quest for posterity — has done his son a disservice in the long run. Will his son carry the invisible weight of being a fraud?

That’s one burden Shedeur Sanders, Deion Sanders’ youngest son, won’t have to carry. He knows he’s earned it.

Colorado head coach Deion Sanders (left) and quarterback Shedeur Sanders (right) walk together prior to a game against UCLA at Rose Bowl Stadium on Oct. 28, 2023, in Pasadena, California.

Ryan Kang/Getty Images

This time next year, Shedeur Sanders will have walked across the stage at the NFL draft to shake NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand as a likely first-round pick, maybe one of the first quarterbacks taken in the draft. Whether he is or isn’t won’t be because of his father’s lobbying.

Sanders is a Hall of Famer, as LeBron James will be the instant he retires. He is also a showman and he has used his considerable influence to put in his son in position to be drafted. At Jackson State, for example, he installed his son as the starter without a legitimate competition, but he did the work. In two seasons, Sanders brought a huge spotlight to Jackson and also to his son, who rose to the occasion.

You can make the argument that Sanders was forced to let his son marinate because NFL rules mandate that players must have been out of high school for at least three years before they can turn pro. In conversations I’ve had with Deion Sanders, he said that because money is not an issue with his son, he wanted to keep him at Colorado as long as possible, not only for the sake of the program, but so that he could grow, mature, get stronger and sharpen his skills.

Deion Sanders allowed his son to marinate, to grow, to develop. Shedeur Sanders led Jackson State to back-to-back regular-season conference titles.

Last year at Colorado, he learned to take a beating, learned to lose even as he put up great numbers, considering he was one of the most sacked quarterbacks in Power 5 football. Deion Sanders allowed his son to mature in college. LeBron James could have done the same with Bronny — allowed him to marinate for a year or even two in college and then have him make the leap. He could have allowed him to develop his own résumé and not have to use his dad’s.

But that would have taken too much time and the calculation apparently was that time was not on father or son’s side.

When I look at LeBron James’ maneuvering through the long lens of history, it’s truly fascinating. Consider: A Black man in a league that was integrated in 1950, when Black players were subjected to quotas and were kept out of coaching and executive positions for many years. To have a LeBron James go from high school to the NBA and become so powerful a force that he can establish an empire that compels his team to draft his son is a nod to progress.

The disturbing aspect of the LeBron and Bronny James’ historic connection is not the blatant nepotism, but the rationale behind the nepotism. No one is even bothering to argue that if Bronny were not his son, he wouldn’t have been the 55th overall pick.

The rationale is that everybody else does it, that nepotism is a way of life that every wealthy person in a position of power and control uses it to create their own reality. This is a real-world rationale and I get it.

Still, there is something to be said, in the world of sport and play, to earning one’s keep.

Shedeur Sanders has a celebrity dad who loves him as much as LeBron James loves his son. The difference is that he has paid his dues and proven that he deserves consideration to get to the next level. Bronny James has not. Ultimately, it will be up to him to prove that he belongs in the NBA.

But let’s be clear: This is less about a father’s love than it is about power, and it helps when a father’s love is also a sledgehammer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.