It was a little less than 90 minutes before showtime, and LeBron James was on his back in the Barclays Center visitor’s locker room as a trainer worked on stretching his quads.
He paid little attention to the crowd of reporters gathered around him searching for some pregame color. Nor did he seem to notice the NBA highlights that were playing on the television above his head. James’ laser focus was on his mobile phone where he was watching a tape of his 13-year-old son, Bronny, play basketball for Crossroads Middle School back home in Santa Monica, California.
This is what qualifies as work-life balance in the NBA, where players have to get their family time in any way they can.
James at this point in his career has made his family and their future his No. 1 priority. It’s why he left Cleveland. He wanted his son to play basketball out West and he wanted to lay down the roots for his postgame life as a producer. And it’s why he really isn’t as unhappy and frustrated as everyone has tried to paint him out to be as the Lakers go through their growing pains.
James, arguably the greatest player of all time, joined a franchise that is arguably the greatest of all time. And it appears that everyone expected instant magic to happen. James alone cannot will this team to win, however. James scored 36 points Tuesday night, including a three- pointer with 17.4 seconds left that brought the team within three, but the Lakers ended up losing, 115-110, to the Nets. James, who has changed teams before, realizes that it’s going to take some time to get this team where he wants it to go.
“We’ve gotten better every week since the season started, and every month,” James said this weekend after the Lakers lost in Washington. “We continue to do that, when April comes, we’ll be right where we want to be.”
Still, the fans are impatient and perhaps getting more nervous by the moment as the Lakers’ loss to the Nets dropped them to 1-3 on their road trip.
James, at age 33, may no longer be the consensus best player in the game. And he has some competition from Steph Curry for most popular. James, however, is the only player who can single-handedly sell out almost every arena he plays in. The Lakers have always been a popular road team, but without James they would be a deadly boring one this year.
There’s nothing boring, however, about going on the road with James, which has made some people speculate that some top free agents might not want to play with the team.
Look at James’ last 72 hours: After scoring 13 points Sunday in a dud of a loss to the Wizards, James was forced to defend the Lakers as “still a good team.” Then, when he tried to relax on Monday night at a steakhouse with good friend and former Knick Carmelo Anthony, the internet was flooded with stories conjecturing that a deal to bring Anthony to the Lakers was imminent. James didn’t exactly shoot down the notion after the game.
“I’ve always wanted to play alongside Melo and if the opportunity presents itself it would be great,” he said.
Yes, it might take a certain type of player to excel in a non-stop circus where they are guaranteed never to be the one featured in the center ring. Tyson Chandler, who joined the team this year, has nothing but good things to say.
“It’s been incredible, coming to the Lakers,” Chandler said. “They are an A-1 organization and it doesn’t hurt to have LeBron on your team.”
Chandler said free agents weigh a variety of factors when evaluating a team, and many decisions have to do with where they are in their playing career and life. “There’s a checklist. You have to make sure that things line up with what you want at that point in your career,” Chandler said. “You have to make sure the organization lines up with what you want in your career.”
At this point in his career, there’s little doubt that James wants to win. But he also wants to do it on his own terms, in a place where he can watch his son dunk in a middle school game and plan for his future.