COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — They crowded into Nationwide Arena, 13,000 strong, cheering every shot, roaring with every basket.
Many were not there to see the game. They came to see LeBron.
Both of them.
Bronny James made his Ohio debut Saturday, and hit the go-ahead shot in the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers’ 59-56 victory over the St. Vincent-St. Mary Irish. Sierra Canyon is 8-0.
Watching, cheering loudest of all and pacing the sideline, was LeBron James, NBA great, father to Bronny, and St. Vincent-St. Mary’s most famous alum.
The elder James led the Irish to three state titles in four years, bringing their games to the airwaves of ESPN airwaves and the pages of Sports Illustrated.
Now it’s Bronny’s turn.
More than 400 credentialed media encircled the court to capture every pass, every dribble, every shot of the King’s firstborn, who would likely have worn an Irish jersey had the family not moved west so James could shine for the Los Angeles Lakers.
LeBron James put Akron’s St. Vincent–St. Mary High School on the map nearly 20 years ago and has donated $2 million to the school, renovating the gymnasium that now bears his name and writing a $250,000 check to buy new uniforms for athletes and band members. His best friend, Willie McGee, is the athletic director.
But his heart Saturday was clearly with the Trailblazers, as he yelled tips and encouragement from his court-side seat.
With a timeout, James walked halfway on to the court, calling, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” to the Sierra Canyon bench and leaping to his feet when the Trailblazers took a first-half lead.
“Before LeBron went to the Lakers, it was assumed Bronny would stay in Ohio and play at St. Vincent -St. Mary, and carry on the tradition,” Zach Fleer of 270 Hoops, central Ohio’s premiere prep basketball site, said. “Among freshman class, he is among the elite players, but he is not the best player in country. He’s not like his dad yet—he still has a ways to go, Right now I think he is a better shooter than LeBron was at that age. He’s 6-foot-2 now. If he stretches out to his dad size, there is no telling how good he can he.”
James took a private plane from Miami to watch his son play high school ball live for the first time, but the game was about more than family by blood.
He started the night having dinner with his St. Vincent-St. Mary teammates — the “Fab Five,” they were called when they were the biggest thing in high school basketball 17 years ago. Joining James court-side was his wife, Savannah, childhood friend and business partner Maverick Carter, and former Irish teammate Romeo Travis, who cheered his alma mater but shouted as Bronny James drove down the court, “Here we go young King!”
LeBron James has anticipated the sight of his son facing his alma mater for some time.
“A pretty surreal, come-full-circle, unbelievable thing,” LeBron James said.
James and Dwyane Wade decided months ago that they would have their sons pair up at Sierra Canyon — just as they did in Miami from 2010 through 2014, winning two championships together with the Miami Heat. Now their kids are chasing a title, although Wade’s son Zaire was injured and did not play Saturday.
LeBron James’ said his only regret so far being that his schedule with the Los Angeles Lakers takes him away from Trailblazers’ games.
“I love what I do. I don’t take this for granted. This is a dream come true,” LeBron James said. “But missing my son, missing LeBron Jr., missing (younger son) Bryce’s first game the other day when we left for Orlando, missing my daughter at gymnastics and things of that nature, I understand it’s the business, but it sucks.”
Sierra Canyon has been a well-known program in high school circles for some time — the Trailblazers have won the last two California Open Division state championships and were ranked nationally last year with a roster loaded with blue-chip prospects.
Celebrity sightings are an everyday thing at the school where it costs $37,700 a year in tuition alone for high schoolers to attend: Recent Sierra Canyon rosters included the sons of former NBA players Scottie Pippen and Kenyon Martin. Marvin Bagley III played there. Kendall and Kylie Jenner attended the school. Drake has been to games as a fan.
This year — with the oldest sons of James and Wade added to the mix — it has become a full-on spectacle.
Saturday’s game was part of a four-game run that will see them play in four different states, California, Arizona, Ohio and next up will be Nevada in a few days. They’ve played in Texas already. Games in Massachusetts and New Jersey are later this season.
ESPN will air 10 more Sierra Canyon games this season, with other games either on television or streamed.
Bronny James being compared to his father is inevitable. The attention he draws is also enormous — videos of his first dunk, when he was 13, have been viewed on YouTube more than 20 million times and he has 3.8 million followers on Instagram. For now, the family is trying to squash any talk of how good a player he can be or if he’ll one day make the NBA.
“My son is in the ninth grade; he’s a kid,” LeBron James said. “We’re not even thinking about anything besides how he can be a great teammate, how he can be a great son, how he can be a great brother to his sister and little brother, how he can continue to be a great kid.”
AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.