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NBA nepotism

There is nothing new about the concept of nepotism. It’s usually something people look down upon, unless it’s you or your own kid that benefits. Still, more often than not, we accept that quite often, people in positions of power might help their family get a leg up in their career, either at the entry level or towards the top of the pyramid. 

That said, we’ve likely never seen anything quite like the conversation around Bronny James, son of NBA superstar LeBron James, who at age 39 is entering his 22nd season in the NBA, currently with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bronny, as you may know, was just drafted in the 2nd round of the NBA draft with the 55th overall pick by that same franchise. This would make them the first father/son duo to every play together in the NBA, much less on the same team. It was perhaps the most discussed late 2nd round pick in NBA history, a place where teams usually take a flyer on someone you probably never heard of who may or may not pan out after some time in the G-League. Conversely, Bronny was the talk of the draft. 

That would probably be the end if it weren’t for some context. Bronny James was a fairly average guard in his one year playing for a mediocre USC team. He scored under five points a game and shot 36%. He’s only 6’2”, and even despite strong defensive potential, doesn’t seem to have either the upside or history that would make him an NBA draft pick, even late in second round. And his one college season almost didn’t happen after he suffered a heart condition the summer before. 

That all said, Bronny just signed a four-year, $7.9 million one-way deal with the Lakers, meaning he can’t be sent down to the G-League to develop or if he’s not up to snuff. It’s not totally out of line for the 2nd round, but it is quite generous for someone with his resume. Not coincidentally, LeBron James also just signed a new contract this week, his a two-year, $104 million deal. That means James will continue and presumably finish his NBA career in LA as they try to squeeze one more title run out of the current lineup. 

Which brings us to the issue of nepotism. It is widely assumed that Bronny James was only drafted by the Lakers to ensure LeBron remains with the team. One might argue about the effectiveness of a 39-year-old athlete, but from the Lakers perspective, once he leaves, it’s rebuild time. So why not draft his son, something LeBron has talked about extensively for years, and give him a reason to stick around. And look, it’s not like some other 2nd round pick was going to do a whole lot anyway, even if it he were better than Bronny. And it’s certainly not worth losing his dad. From a business perspective, it’s kind of a no-brainer. 

Yet for some reason, that’s not the overarching public sentiment, at least in a considerable crowd on social media. They’re not talking about what might be best for the Lakers, or whether a late 2nd round pick would really matter anyway. They’re talking about nepotism – and to the point, whether it’s fair that Bronny James, son of NBA royalty, gets an NBA roster spot instead of someone more deserving, shall we say. 

Let’s be clear to that point. No, it’s not fair. There are definitely athletes who have greater NBA skills who were passed over. Arguing against that point, that Bronny is actually a strong pick, is silly. But, and this is key, just because it’s unfair doesn’t inherently make it wrong, as bad as that may sound. The NBA isn’t a meritocracy, and the Lakers aren’t a charity. They’re a business trying to win championships and make as much money as possible. It would be hard to find another available player late in the second round that will help LA right now accomplish both more than Bronny James, as mediocre by NBA standards as he may be. So even if it’s not fair, it’s still might be right. That’s a really tough pill for a lot of people to swallow, even though it’s not like they were in line for that roster spot. By the way, if this sounds a bit like a lot of the rest of life – politics, college admissions, wealth – well, that’s because it is. 

In the end, life isn’t fair. The Lakers didn’t invent that. And they didn’t invent nepotism, either.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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