February 26, 2024

OKLAHOMA CITY — LeBron James is so excited to see eldest son Bronny make his college basketball debut that the Los Angeles Lakers will have to take a backseat to the USC Trojans if it comes to that.

“Whenever he’s cleared and ready to have his first game, I already told my teammates that if they play on the same day we’re playing, I’m going to have to catch them the next game,” James said after the Lakers’ 133-110 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night. “Family over everything … But definitely got to see Bronny’s first game whenever he’s cleared and ready to go.”

The Lakers finished their road trip 2-2 with the loss, blowing an early 14-point lead in the process, but it was hard to dim James’ spirit on the day it was announced that Bronny was cleared by doctors for a full return to basketball with USC.

The 19-year-old freshman, who suffered cardiac arrest during a team workout in July and underwent successful surgery to repair what the James family referred to as a likely congenital heart defect, has yet to appear in a game for the 5-2 Trojans.

Anthony Davis and D’Angelo Russell jokingly groaned in dismay when James revealed the possibility of missing a Lakers game to see his son debut. However, Davis told reporters afterward that the two team captains discussed the plan on a recent team flight and that the 38-year-old has the full support of the locker room.

Bronny will have a final evaluation by the USC staff this week, begin practicing next week and return to games soon after, a James family spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.

There are a handful of upcoming dates in the next two months when the teams’ schedules overlap:

Dec. 28 — Lakers vs. Charlotte Hornets; USC at Oregon

Dec. 30 — Lakers at Minnesota Timberwolves; USC at Oregon State

Jan. 3 — Lakers vs. Miami Heat; USC vs. California

Jan. 13 — Lakers at Utah Jazz; USC at Colorado

Jan. 17 — Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks; USC at Arizona

Jan. 27 — Lakers at Golden State Warriors; USC vs. UCLA

“Just a proud moment,” James said of his son continuing to advance toward a return. “Big-time excitement from our family for Bronny. And for USC, as well. It’s something that he’s been working towards for the last 12 weeks. And for him to get the clearance to do what he loves to do and go back to being with his teammates and put on a uniform and things of that nature, it’s pretty gratifying for sure.”

Things seem less optimistic for James’ Lakers team, which lost the two games on the road trip in Philadelphia and Oklahoma City by a combined 67 points. The Lakers dropped to 11-9 overall approaching the quarter mark of the 82-game regular-season schedule.

However, with injuries continuing to challenge the roster — five planned rotation players in Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel), Gabe Vincent (left knee), Cam Reddish (right groin), Jaxson Hayes (left elbow) and Rui Hachimura (nasal fracture) were unavailable against the Thunder — the team needs to get whole before it can figure out how the pieces fit or not.

“It’s impossible to make an assessment,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the season thus far.

But Bronny’s update was a reminder of the bigger picture for a team that has big goals of its own this season.

“It’s amazing, man,” Ham said. “I’m so happy for him and their family.”

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