Watching Bronny James debut, LeBron was at his most relatable

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LOS ANGELES – For once, on Sunday afternoon, there was a glimpse into what it felt like to be LeBron James.

The greatest basketball player of his generation had his feet on the hardwood at USC’s Galen Center, from a courtside seat. He cared deeply about what was happening before him. And there was not a single thing he could do to influence how it would transpire.

As his eldest son, Bronny James, made his debut in an overtime defeat for the Trojans against Long Beach State, James Sr. was powerless apart from accepting the plight so familiar to millions of sports parents.

He sat, face mostly impassive but with enough tells to relay the fact that his stomach was churning, with the nerves in full flow. Forget about channeling the ice-cold veteran performer within, the man who won the first NBA Cup as MVP only hours earlier. This was a dad moment, and dads get impossibly nervous when their sons and daughters are in the thick of the action, be it Little League, AYSO or NCAA Division I hoops.

“It was exciting for everyone to see Bronny out there,” USC head coach Andy Enfield told reporters, after his team went down in overtime, 84-79. “I’m sure for his family it was most exciting of all.”

Exciting, sure. For LeBron, probably nerve-wracking, terrifying and a whole bunch of other emotions, too. For this was more than just a game for Bronny, and more than just a debut. It was his first official action since suffering cardiac arrest in July, followed by an operation to repair a congenital heart defect. His minutes on Sunday were restricted to 16, and he managed four points, three rebounds and two assists.

Plus an eye-catching, chase-down block like some other dude did once before.

LeBron James is not particularly relatable, because none of the greats are, not really. Not many people know what it’s like to stand 6-foot-9, or to be a billionaire, or to be recognized everywhere, and no one – not one other person – knows the feeling of having scored more than 39,000 points in the NBA.

But you felt for him here, sensed the unmistakable pride. On Saturday night, he made basketball history, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the first-ever NBA Cup title, while becoming the in-season tournament’s inaugural MVP.

Make no mistake, though, this was the most important moment of his weekend.

As a spectacle, the afternoon was one of those weird one-man shows, where the object of everyone’s interest isn’t necessarily the leading player. Bronny showed a little rust but some positive glimpses, though the USC party was spoiled when Long Beach’s Marcus Tsohonis (28 points) led an impressive comeback from 15 points down at halftime.

Let’s be clear. Bronny James’ basketball career isn’t the second coming. The 19-year-old is an exceptionally good basketball player who has a chance of being one of the chosen few to make a professional career out of the game.

Comparisons to his famous father are a ridiculous and unfair exercise. He’s a cerebral player and he lives in the spotlight not through choice but because that’s just how things are.

The indications are that he’s a fine teammate and a hard worker, and you won’t hear a bad word about him from the coaching staff or his teammates.

His steal in the last minute of regulation was clutch, his missed free throw wasn’t, and such is the nature of college basketball.

His decision to use the spotlight of his first game to thank the Mayo Clinic physicians responsible for his care spoke well of his character.

“I just want to say I am thankful for everything,” he said. “The Mayo Clinic, for everything they helped me with, my parents, siblings, for supporting me through this hardest time of my life. Also my coach, my teammates, my other coaches who have been with me from the start.”

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Bronny’s entrance came at 12:58 of the first half and it brought the crowd, including a certain four-time NBA champion, to its feet. LeBron had his phone out for the moment — what dad wouldn’t? — and would have generally liked what he saw from his son.

It was a lot to deal with for the youngster. The Bronny Show means a whirlwind of attention. If he didn’t know what to expect beforehand, the “We Want Bronny” chants within the first five minutes hammered the point home.

“Bronny handles the spotlight extremely well,” Enfield said. “He is a passionate young man about playing basketball. I am not sure what would happen in the future as far as the spotlight goes, but all I know is he handles it very well.”

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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