LOS ANGELES — LeBron James scored 42 points in a successful comeback to the Drew League while teaming with DeMar DeRozan for a 104-102 win in Los Angeles’ famed pro-am basketball league on Saturday.
Longtime Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley told ESPN he expected Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving to play in the game before James and DeRozan played, but that didn’t happen. is not produced.
“We still have a few games left today and six tomorrow, so we’ll see,” Smiley said late Saturday afternoon.
Smiley said Irving playing Saturday “looked like a safe bet, but I don’t know what happened.”
As the Drew League Saturday slate was being played near Compton, Calif., about 55 miles away in Thousand Oaks, a participant in the Lakers assistant coach’s girls’ basketball skills camp from Los Angeles, Phil Handy, posted a video of Irving working with the campers on his Instagram account. .
Handy coached Irving for five seasons when they were both part of the Cleveland Cavaliers organization.
Saturday’s Drew League game marked the first public glimpse of James, 37, playing basketball in more than three months. He missed seven of the Lakers’ last eight regular season games in the spring with a sprained left ankle and missed 26 games in 2021-22, which ended up being one of the league’s most disappointing seasons. history of the franchise.
“I’m 100% healthy,” James told ESPN during the first half of the action.
He finished with 42 of 18 points for 36 shooting (2 for 13 of 3), 16 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. DeRozan, a Drew League staple who invited James to play on his team and that of Southern California native Casper Ware, scored 30 points on 9-for-23 shooting with 14 rebounds.
James and DeRozan’s team, called the MMV Cheaters, trailed the Black Pearl Elite team by up to seven points in the fourth quarter before coming back strong.
DeRozan’s flow to James for a two-handed dunk with 1:22 remaining put MMV by six and seemingly in control. But BPE followed with a 3-pointer and a layup created by stealing an inbound pass, and James was suddenly in danger of losing his first Drew League game in over a decade.
After a timeout, MMV sent the ball to James, who was fouled with 4.5 seconds left, sending it to the free throw line with his team ahead 103-102.
He did the first. And then things got interesting.
“I walked up to LeBron until the end, and I was like, ‘Hey, I need one. [miss]” Mike Nwabuzor of BPE, who plays professionally overseas, said afterwards. ”And he actually smoked the free throw. So that was probably the best time. But the whole game was fun. Great competition. It’s great to share the court with him.”
James missed the second free throw, but BPE’s Ethan Alvano put in a potential winner 3 at the buzzer which failed, and James raised his fist for the win.
“I thought we could have really succeeded,” said Alvano, who recently signed a two-year contract to play in South Korea. “We made a few mistakes down the straight. But, man, it’s been a lifelong dream to play against, with, whatever with LeBron James. Someone I grew up watching, someone that I grew up idolizing. So it was an honor, it was a blessing to share court with him.
It was James’ first appearance in the Drew League – which was founded in 1973 and has seen a pilgrimage of NBA players descend on the gymnasium at Charles Drew Junior High School in the summers for decades – since the lockout. out of the NBA in 2011.
“When it first happened it was a surprise because Baron [Davis] brought him to play, and I think he just came to watch, and then he was excited to see the crowd and the game, and then he wanted a shirt,” Smiley said. “So that’s how it happened. “
Davis was one of a dozen former or current NBA players to watch on Saturday, a group that also included Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors; Montrezl Harrell of the Charlotte Hornets; and Kendrick Nunn and Talen Horton-Tucker of the Lakers.
Irving’s absence erased much of the day’s intrigue surrounding James and his former teammate.
Irving recently landed his $36.5 million player option for the 2022-23 season with the Brooklyn Nets, and James is in the final year of his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, although he could sign a extension with LA from next month. .
Los Angeles has engaged Brooklyn in trade talks in recent weeks to try to acquire Irving in a deal that would send Russell Westbrook to the Nets, sources have told ESPN. So far, these talks have not led to an agreement.
Instead, the focus was on the court, with James — four years into his tenure with the Lakers — enjoying himself with the Los Angeles basketball scene.
“For him to be here and come to the middle of the neighborhood where everyday people are everyday looking up to him, he’s a superstar so for him to come here and honor these people with his presence, I think it’s super dope,” says Alvano. “I’m glad he did and it’s great for the community.”
Smiley added, “It was just an epic, epic basketball afternoon.”