LeBron says Bronny 'doesn't care' about critics

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LAS VEGAS — LeBron James said Bronny James — his eldest-son-turned-Los Angeles Lakers teammate after the franchise drafted him with the No. 55 pick last month — is uniquely prepared to handle the scrutiny that already has started to come his way.

“I don’t know if people really understand Bronny,” James told ESPN as part of a wide-ranging interview after USA Basketball practice Sunday in preparation for the Paris Olympics. “He doesn’t care. I actually care a little bit. When I came in [as a rookie], I wanted people to like me, and some of the things that people were saying about me kind of bothered me early on in my career. … He doesn’t give a f—.

“He does not care about nobody. He doesn’t even listen to that stuff. He’s like the coolest. He’s like the complete opposite of his dad. His dad will say something [to address the critics]. Bro does not care. … Everything that’s being said about him, he really does not care.”

LeBron James, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer who has amassed a net worth north of $1 billion over the course of his 21-year playing career, said his 19-year-old son has not let all that success affect who he is as a person.

“Just imagine if you were a kid, you were born into a situation where your dad was super famous, super wealthy and you the kid still had the drive to want to be able to accomplish things for yourself,” James, 39, said. “I personally don’t know if I would’ve been able to do that if the roles were reversed.

“When I was coming up, I had no choice. I literally had no choice. … I had to make it out for me. My mom, my family, my hometown, my city. Bronny has all the choices in the world. If Bronny wants to stop right now or never played basketball or just wanted to be a gamer or wanted to be a chef or wanted to be nothing to whatever, he could have done that. … People don’t understand how hard that is and the commitment for him to be coming out of heart surgery less than a year ago, for him to be able to be in the NBA, the kid, he’s special.”

“But he doesn’t care. He doesn’t,” James continued. “It doesn’t bother him.”

The elder James is no stranger to criticism, either, with disparagement in recent months being aimed at his supposed influence on the Lakers’ drafting of his son and the hiring of his former “Mind the Game” podcast co-host, JJ Redick, as their next head coach.

“I’m not involved in the coaching hiring, but I’m excited about JJ,” he said. “I’m excited about working with coach [Nate] McMillan. I haven’t worked with him since the Olympic run [in 2008]. First time working with coach [Scott] Brooks, looking forward to that. So, I’m excited about that. That’s been the extent of it all this summer as far as the Lakers.”

James signed a two-year extension with the Lakers over the weekend, including a player option for the second season.

He signed for less than the max for the first time since 2010, leaving nearly $3 million on the table in order to help L.A. avoid the second apron and the salary cap restrictions that it brings.

Why did James agree to less money when he just came off a season in which he was named to the All-NBA third team and made the All-Star Game for the 20th straight campaign?

“Because we are in a relationship, and anybody knows relationships, [knows that] it’s all about committing,” he told ESPN. “It’s also about doing things to help both sides. So, we’ve been in a working relationship going on seven years … so that’s what it’s about.”

James’ agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, told ESPN that his client was willing to take even less money in order to open up the $12.9 midlevel exception for the Lakers to use to try to sign an “impact player.” The players who fit that bill included Klay Thompson, James Harden, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan, sources told ESPN.

L.A. was unable to land any of them.

“It takes two to tango,” James told ESPN of the Lakers’ failed attempts. “I think our front office, our coaching staff, they tried to do the job that they wanted to do or tried to get guys to come, and it didn’t happen. And that’s OK. That’s part of the business. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that sometimes it happens, sometimes it don’t.

“So, we don’t sit here and lie about or cry about it. We move on. And Klay’s a great player. Obviously, DeMar’s a great player. Valanciunas was one of those guys who ended up going to Washington, was someone that was in talks with us, but we move on to see how we continue to get better.”

“I’m looking forward to this fall when I get back out there,” he said.

The roster James will join looks mostly the same as it did when it lost to the Denver Nuggets in five games during the first round of the playoffs in late April. Yet, he said he still believes he can win another title before his tenure in L.A. is finished.

“Of course,” James told ESPN when asked about the possibility of the Lakers contending again while he is still with the franchise. “Because we’ve done it before. We’ve done it before, and we still have two guys who commit every single day with myself and AD [Anthony Davis]. We commit to excellence and commit to win. And we feel like any situation, any given year, we can put ourselves in a position to be able to succeed. And we’re not that far off.

“We were one year removed from the Western Conference finals. Obviously, this year it didn’t go as well this past year. Didn’t go as well as we would like, but we’re not that far off.”

“And there’s so many teams in the league,” he said, “but we don’t see that we are that far off in the West.”

The question remains just how far off retirement is for James, who will turn 40 in December. If he plays out the contract he just signed, he will have served 23 seasons in the league — beating Vince Carter’s all-time record of 22.

“I mean, it could be [the last contract I will ever sign],” James told ESPN. “I’d never sit up here and say, ‘Oh, maybe not.’ Yeah, it could be. Easily. But we’ll see what happens.”

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