The oral history of Bronny James’ heart scare – Press Enterprise

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LOS ANGELES — Five and a half months later, the joy courses through Bronny James’ every movement.

Squeakers squeak and music thumps within a sleeping Galen Center this Jan. 3, and James’ mouth twists into an O as he pulls a jumper from the corner. Lenses watch him, patiently, from the baseline, the ones he can never escape. He corkscrews a bounce pass during a pre-game drill with faux razzle. A showman. But only for himself, right now, and no one else.

He leaps, in jest, to fake-contest a shot from fellow USC freshman Isaiah Collier. The arena booms with the bass of Drake and Lil Wayne’s “The Motto,” and James starts mouthing the first verse bar-for-bar with a grin, senior teammate DJ Rodman throwing a good-natured scoff at him.

How you feel, how you feel, how you feel? 25, sittin’ on 25 mil’.

He was free. He is free. And in the sheer normalcy of his demeanor, a 19-year-old bringing a preschooler-goofing-off-on-monkey-bars vibe to warm-ups and a measured game to his first year of college basketball, it’s quietly easy to forget what James has endured.

“I just wanna say I’m thankful for everything,” James said, face devoid of much emotion, after an 84-79 loss to Long Beach State. “Mayo Clinic, everything they helped me with, parents, siblings, supporting me through this hard time in my life. … Also, my coach, teammates, all my other coaches, they’ve been with me since the start, and I just want to say I’m thankful for them.”

That was that. And so life moved on.

Hype around his return, once so great that a standing-room-only crowd of reporters had to shout over each other just to get in a question to coach Andy Enfield after that Long Beach State game, has fizzled amid the injury-plagued Trojans’ 8-11 season and some freshman growing pains. Arizona State fans bellowed o-ver-rated after James missed an end-of-game layup in a loss on Saturday; any shred of a comeback narrative has melted away, replaced by ever-present scrutiny over his development and a basketball future hand-in-hand with his father’s.

So yes: it’s easy to forget, six months ago, James collapsed on a practice court inside Galen.

It was a moment that changed James’ life, stripping all else away to a simple question of life or death. It was a moment that racked those around USC, witnessing a teammate suffer spontaneous cardiac arrest for the second time in two years.

And it was a moment he handled – both in the months to come and in the moment itself – with the same breezy demeanor that has struck most everyone who has come to know the son of LeBron James.

This is the story of the moment of James’ cardiac arrest, told by those inside and outside USC, via months of reporting and interviews done by the Southern California News Group. Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity, readability and grammar, and taken from portions of various interviews done with reporters or one-on-one with the SCNG.

::

It’s the morning of July 24, 2023. The Trojans are winding down a summer workout, about two weeks before the team is slated to leave for a preseason exhibition tour to Europe. 

Boogie Ellis (USC senior guard, captain): We was just playing five-on-five, and it just happened.

Eric Mobley (USC assistant coach): Well, I mean, Coach gave us a break. So I was talking to (Bronny’s) bodyguard, and we were just chatting and everything, and Bronny was right behind me.

All the coaches, especially (head coach Andy) Enfield, we were all talking, and kids are talking, sitting down, having water, and so. And the break was probably about three minutes, I’d say.

DJ Rodman (USC senior forward, transfer from Washington State): We were just, sitting on chairs and all that type of stuff.

Mobley: Coach (Enfield) blew the whistle to get back on the baseline. I was standing up, and Bronny was right behind me, probably about two feet away. And I just heard this thump on the ground.

Boom.

I turned around, I’m lookin’ around, and I looked down, and he was on the ground.

I thought it was like, he was talking to Zach (Brooker), he was talking to his teammate, and I thought something happened where he just – and then I looked again, and I just saw (Zach) kinda staring.

Rodman: I think it was just confusion. That’s all it was. Like, what just happened?

Mobley is no stranger to tragedy. In 1990, Mobley was guarding Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers in a West Coast Conference tournament semifinal when Gathers collapsed mid-game and died soon after of a heart disorder. 

Mobley: I thought (Bronny) was having a seizure. I didn’t think he was having cardiac arrest. Because he kind of had his eyes rolling back in his head. So I’ve seen plenty of people go into seizure mode – I was just trying to get him on his side.

I called (USC trainer Jon Yonamine), and JY was already on the floor before I even start calling him. And the whole staff, and how we all reacted and got everybody out the gym – it’s almost like, textbook.

::

A 911 call went out to the Los Angeles Fire Department at 9:26 a.m., according to a recording obtained by TMZ

Caller: Listen. Listen. Listen to me. We need an ambulance here now.

Operator: Okay, let’s get next to him, please. Okay. How old is he? Get next to him with the phone, okay. Get next to him.

Caller: Next to him?

Operator: Get next to him, please. With the phone. Okay, I need to find out, is there a doctor on scene with him, or a registered nurse?

Caller: No. There’s no doctor, no nurse.

Operator: Okay, help is already on the way.

In 2022, current sophomore forward Vincent Iwuchukwu collapsed with cardiac arrest under similar summer workout circumstances. Quick action by USC’s staff, including longtime trainer Yonamine – often called JY by the program – helped stabilize Iwuchukwu. 

Mobley: We’ve been there and done that before, which we have. And they had the defibrillator in probably less than 30 seconds.

Andy Enfield (head coach): I think, anytime you have a traumatic experience, the first thing is our outstanding trainers, and our medical staff here. Our trainers are superstars. JY has been with us, we’ve been together 11 seasons now, and Kurtis Schultz our strength coach, his 11th season.

Mobley: We just tried to make sure (Bronny’s) getting back, come back to consciousness. But you can tell that he was hearin’ what we were saying. He just couldn’t move or come out of his – it was like he was trapped in a box, you know?

::

For most on USC’s roster, it wasn’t the first time they’d seen this.

Joshua Morgan (USC senior center): It’s one of those moments where you can’t really predict how you’re going to act.

Kobe Johnson (USC junior forward, captain): Kinda had a similar situation with Vince last year, but – you don’t really know what to do in that situation.

Ellis: I was like, this can’t be happening again. And just to see that twice – well, it’s like my fourth time seeing something like that. So, it’s kind of crazy.

Morgan: It’s definitely hard, it’s definitely challenging if you’ve never seen that before. And even people who have – it’s a very traumatic experience for us, and for (Bronny) as well.

Rodman: I mean, shoot, I don’t think anyone knows this, but I went through the same thing my freshman year (at Washington State) with Deion (James), my boy Deion, and then my boy Dishon (Jackson) last year.

I had to run out. Because I couldn’t handle another one like that. And I know that these guys dealt with Vince last year. I can’t imagine that.

Ellis: It caught us all by surprise. And we were really hurt by it.

Morgan: For some of us who have, unfortunately, been there before – you have the kind of ability to pick people up, take them up to the locker room and then stay together.

We told people, if they needed to go see a sports psychologist, go do it. As I said, it’s one of those moments where you never really know how it’s going to affect you. So, everyone going around saying we’re all here for each other and just stay together as a team, as a brotherhood, really.

But luckily our team was on that. JY and all the staff, they were prepped and ready to go. Very quickly, we heard the good news that he was going to be fine. So luckily, the atmosphere was able to shift.

::

The entire timeframe of when James was out, Mobley said, was less than two minutes. 

Mobley: Things happened so fast. It was like, boom, he’s on the ground.

We had the defibrillator right on him, boom.

Hit him, boom, he popped up.

He sat up for a minute, and got up on his two feet. And we didn’t ask him to get up on his two feet.

Rodman: It was just him. It was just Bronny. It was just who he is. It was like it never happened.

Mobley: He was about to walk out the gym. We’re over by the first basket, over that way. On the baseline. And he’s about to walk out, and we’re like, “Where you goin’, Bronny? We called an ambulance.”

He’s like, “I’m all right. I’m all right.”

I said, “No you’re not. Hold on. Sit down.”

Rodman: We weren’t up here, but 15 minutes after it happened, everyone was saying, like, he was cracking jokes, and all that type of stuff.

Mobley: I was like, “Where you going? Hold on. Do you understand what just happened?”

(Bronny) was mad. And I was like, “Why you mad?”

He said, “I just hit two buckets in a row, Coach, and I wanted to finish practice.”

And so, the love for the game that he has is impressive. And that’s the type of attitude he had. He was truly upset that he didn’t get the chance to finish practice.

He said, “Coach, I was killing ’em.”

::

Headlines broke the next day that James had suffered cardiac arrest. Romeo Travis, part of the St. Vincent-St. Mary “Fab Five” in LeBron James’ high school days, found out about the news from a friend. 

Travis: Once I heard what was going on, we have a group chat with all the guys from high school, so we all jumped in the group chat and were just checking on Bronny and Bron and his mental state, and those things like that.

And then LeBron sent us a message that kinda filled us in on what was going on, and … moving forward, that it kinda put us all at ease.

That day, the James family put out a statement informing the public that James was stable and no longer in the ICU, beginning a 4½-month-long journey of recovery that included a heart procedure and ended with his debut against Long Beach State on Dec. 10.

Travis: You can just only imagine how you feel as a parent. So even if (LeBron) didn’t want to talk, we just wanted him to know that we were there for him. And if he needed, just to bounce anything off of us, just communicate that we were there for him.

Because he’s usually the one there for everybody else. So we just wanted him to know that we were there for him.

Big Boy (radio host, father of Sierra Canyon’s Jayden Alexander and a James family friend): When Bronny went down, bro, that’s personal. Of course, being a dad and being a human being, we don’t want that for anyone. But seeing that happen with him, bro, you hope for the best, you pray for a beautiful outcome.

As a parent, I’m pretty sure with LeBron and Savannah – that scared the (expletive) out of them. Because my wife and I, we’d speak about it as well, like – what do you do when you get a phone call like that? Do you remain nervous now when you watch him play?

Mobley: It was a sad day, that day, to see a kid fall out and do it two years in a row. It just, takes the taste out of your mouth, you know what I’m sayin’. And so, kinda just, gotta try to get through it.

Enfield: I think everybody’s been through a lot emotionally. Bronny the most. And he’s handled it very well. And any time you go through an emotional situation, it’s nice to have teammates and staff that care. And the team, his teammates, did a great job with Bronny.

Ellis: I mean, as soon as (Bronny) was done, we went to see him in the hospital – talked to him every day, in the Snapchat group chat, he’s always cracking jokes and stuff like that.

Rodman: (Bronny’s) just a very positive guy, and every time I see him, it’s just a big smile and a very mature, like, “What’s up.”

Forget who he is as a person – forget who he is in the media, and all the lights and stuff, and just get to know him as a teammate, as a friend. And that’s pretty much what I love, that’s what I’ve loved about getting to know him, and just kind of being – just being there, and always having his back.

Vincent Iwuchukwu: He’s handled it – Bronny’s handled it really well. And I think he’s had a lot of guidance, just like I did from school, and obviously he has a great support system outside of our program.

And I’m kinda glad it happened to me, so I’m able to help him out, whatever situations that he has going on, because I know it’s not easy to get back.

Travis: It just, it shows everybody that they’re humans – they go through things just like everybody else go through things.

To see the family rally around each other, it just lets you know that they’re a real family. Like, this is real life. That family, there’s a lot of scrutiny, there’s a lot of publicity towards the family, for obvious reasons. But for this, this was a moment to show, like, we are a real family. It’s not like, this ain’t for play, this not a made-for-TV-drama.

This is real life.



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