Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, Lakers star LeBron James has said two things about retirement: That he has no idea when he wants to hang up his signature Nikes for good, but that he’ll do so before he turns 46 so that his wife won’t get mad at him.
That leaves a 10-year window for the 36-year-old to continue playing, and before he wraps up what is arguably the greatest career in NBA history, he says there is at least one more goal he wants to fulfill:
LeBron James asked if it's a goal to play with his son, Bronny, in the NBA: "That's definitely one of my goals, but that's a long-term goal. My son right now is in high school and enjoying what being a teenager is all about. But that would be pretty cool to go on my resume."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 8, 2021
Bronny is currently 16 years old and a sophomore in high school, meaning that he’s slated to graduate in 2023. That is one year after the NBA is currently said to be negotiating with the players’ union about ending the one-and-done rule, meaning that if the two sides can find an agreement and Bronny is good enough, he could skip college — just like his dad — and enter straight into the NBA. ESPN currently has Bronny ranked as the 25th-best prospect in his class, but also just tore his meniscus in practice, requiring surgery. His high school, Sierra Canyon, is expected to play this spring, but it’s unknown if Bronny will be able to join them.
There aren’t a lot of 36-year-olds that could realistically plan on still being around three seasons from now, but LeBron isn’t most 36-year-olds. He’s currently in the thick of the MVP race despite his advancing age, and just signed a two-year extension that will keep him in a Lakers uniform until 2023. With as calculated as LeBron is, that being the same year Bronny could potentially enter the NBA does not feel like an accident.
If LeBron doesn’t sign another extension towards the end of this deal, that means he could be a free agent in the summer of 2023, free at 39 years old to go and join whatever team drafts his son, if he comes out that year and if that’s something they both want. Those are two big “ifs.” I mean, how many 18-year-olds want to hang out with their dads, or work at the same place? Maybe “play with” will just mean “share the court with” for LeBron and Bronny.
But while it’s way to soon to know if there is any way the Lakers could acquire Bronny in the draft if the two James’ do want to play on the same team, or where he’ll rank as a prospect, Lakers governor Jeanie Buss made it clear during her recent comments on ESPN’s “First Take” that she hopes LeBron wears purple and gold for even longer than his current extension lasts (h/t Fadeaway World):
“It is like a really good match. We want him to stay around as long as he wants to stay around. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played till he was 42. LeBron said something the other day how he probably won’t play when he’s 46. So maybe somewhere between now and 46, so another 10 years, whatever he wants to do. We love having him, I have to say he drafted a really good All-Star team yesterday. He knows basketball, he’s competitive. We’re having a lot of fun having him around, the one thing that’s missing are the fans.”
Now, it’s worth noting (as the above video makes clear) that Buss was not specifically talking about Bronny, or him playing with LeBron, or anything like that. But it does illustrate an interesting potential hurdle to LeBron finishing his career in purple and gold. That said, LeBron playing well enough at 39 that the Lakers would want to keep him in uniform even longer feels like a good problem to have, so if this actually becomes a realistic dilemma, the Lakers will be in a pretty good spot, and his extension will have worked out pretty well. They can cross that bridge when (and if) they get there.
All we know for certain right now is that the fact that James is playing well enough at his age for all of this to be considered even a slightly realistic possibility once again highlights how insane it is that he’s still producing at this level in his 18th season. During this gap in play and away from the day-to-day rhythms of the season, it’s worth stopping to appreciate just how ridiculous and unprecedented all of this is.