Why LeBron James Won’t Coach His Sons To Play Basketball Right Now
Posted by Dean Holden at February 6th, 2016
by Joe Vardon, 10 December 2015
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James stands with his two sons after defeating the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Championship. Joshua Gunter, Northeast Ohio Media Group.
LeBron James Jr. and his brother Bryce attended Cavaliers practice Monday, catching a ride with their dad because of a day off from school.
At one basket was All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, rounding himself into form with intense drills to continue his comeback from knee surgery.
At another hoop, veteran NBA big men Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov were pounding away on the block, honing their skills with their backs to the basket.
And at yet another station, 15-year pro Richard Jefferson was hoisting up 3-pointers, in tandem with arguably the best basketball player in the world, one of the greatest to ever play.
The boys’ father, LeBron James.
LeBron Jr., 11, and Bryce, 8 — two youngsters with considerable basketball skills who perhaps aspire to follow their father’s NBA footsteps — can’t help but benefit from this kind of osmosis.
Everywhere they turn, they’re surrounded by basketball at its highest level: At home, when they join James at Cleveland Clinic Courts, or when they attend Cavs games at The Q on weekends.
But when it comes to the actual, physical coaching of the two boys, James is staying away right now. He’s purposefully not coaching his sons how to play hoops.
“I let their coaches coach them,” James said in an interview with cleveland.com.
Of the two sons, LeBron Jr. is of course older and, more to the point, more advanced on the court. Junior is a YouTube sensation due to footage of his killer crossover dribble, his long-range shooting, passing – generally a host of skills that remind one of, well, LeBron James.
James shared some of those clips on Twitter last season and said his older son could maybe be a pro. He then sought to shut down the attention — he wanted his boys to focus on school, and friends, and video games, and things that are important to children who aren’t the sons of arguably the most famous basketball player on Earth.
And that’s where James is with his parenting decision about coaching his sons. He wants to let them grow up, first.
“I told my son (LeBron Jr.) when he’s ready for the blueprint, I’ll give it to him,” James said. “But right now all I care about is him having fun. Have fun, play hard, and play for your team, and that’s all that matters right now.
“He’s at an age right now where he doesn’t need added pressure from his dad, from his father,” James continued. “I’ll teach him when he gets old enough.”
How old is old enough?
“I’ll wait ’til he gets 13, 14 when I’ll really start to going to him,” James said.
Dr. Eddie O’Connor, a sports psychologist in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he likes James’ approach.
“It can really help protect his relationship as a father,” O’Connor said. “There’s no way their performance (is) attached to his approval of them as their father.”
The James boys are by no means the first sons of an NBA great to grow up while their dad is in his prime. One of the more famous examples, at least in terms of how it turned out for the boys involved, is the Curry family, with patriarch Dell and his handling of sons Stephen and Seth.
You know about Steph, the NBA’s reigning MVP and best player on the defending champion Golden State Warriors, who together are torching the league right now. Seth, 25, Steph’s younger brother, is a backup guard with the Sacramento Kings.
Both Curry boys were born in the early part of Dell’s 16-year career – Steph was born in Akron during Dell’s one season with the Cavs – and were old enough to play and learn from their father before his final season in 2002.
In an interview with cleveland.com, Dell Curry, who now is a TV broadcaster for the Charlotte Hornets, said he was Steph and Seth’s “first coach.”
“I was fortunate that they obviously gravitated toward basketball, but also that they trusted me in trying to teach them the right way,” Curry said. “As a coach, I think the biggest thing I tried to portray to them was to practice good habits. Have good practice habits, play the right way. Don’t show up your opponent, those type of things.”
Curry took the opposite approach from James – stepping away from coaching his sons when they became teenagers. (Dell famously lost a game of one-on-one to 14-year-old Steph in the back yard, and they never played again).
The situations were slightly different for Curry and James. While Curry was famous in Charlotte during his years with the Hornets and a pillar of that community, James is a global icon in the social-media age. So any interaction he has with his sons in public is magnified, likely putting more pressure on the boys.
Curry said one way he reached his sons was by bringing them with him to the basketball camps he ran during the summers.
“I’m speaking to the campers, about shooting, doing things the right way, but I’m actually I’m talking to them,” Curry said. “So they think I’m talking to other guys, but I’m telling them things I knew I wanted to see from them when they play, how to shoot.”
Curry said there was pressure on his sons in high school playing in the Charlotte area because of who their father was, but it was manageable.
“Really the only kind of pressure they felt was could they shoot as well as me,” Curry said. “I was known as a shooter, and that was answered early. They could always do that.”
When it comes to a parent coaching a child, said Dr. Jim Mastrich, a sports psychologist in Kingston, N.J., the issue isn’t whether the parent is a star athlete, but whether he or she can maintain proper boundaries.
“Some folks know they shouldn’t coach their kids, others are entirely right to feel comfortable coaching them,” Mastrich said. “Some of them — maybe star athletes fit into this category — say ‘I’m going to expect too much’ or ‘they’re going to feel too much pressure to have to perform for me.’
“The takeaway should be, ‘To what extent does it serve my kid?’ If it ‘serves my kid,’ it’s good.”
So if James isn’t coaching his sons, who is?
Last season, cleveland.com introduced you to Clyde Jackson, a Houston, Texas, man who runs an All-Star youth program down there that LeBron Jr. joined for some tournaments across the U.S.
As fate would have it, James’ desire to have his son’s team based in Northeast Ohio coincided with a job change for Jackson. He said he’s an independent claims adjuster and picked up an assignment that will bring him to Newark, Ohio, at least once a month.
So Jackson started the Northeast Ohio Blue Chips, who will begin play in January and have James Jr. as their anchor.
“We teach him the basic principles,” Jackson said, discussing with cleveland.com what it is that he teaches to the son of the game’s best player. “Floor spacing, different situational things, such as like zone reads, what to do against a man offense, what to do against a 3-2. Proper shooting etiquette. Keeping the elbow up. We teach him about the different positions on the floor. We teach him the triple threat.
“We teach him everything he needs to know. We try to coach them like they are high school kids.”
Jackson describes Junior as “a hard worker” and a “very coachable kid” with a “very high IQ” in basketball.
And what instruction has he received from James about how to coach Junior?
“I haven’t spoken with LeBron since I first had Junior on my team last season,” Jackson said. “He lets us coach him and he trusts us with his skill development.”