LOS ANGELES – LeBron James scored 42 points in a successful return to the Drew League while teaming with DeMar DeRozan for a 104-102 win in the popular NBA in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Longtime Drew League commissioner Dino Smiley told ESPN he expects Brooklyn Nets guard Keri Irving to play in the game leading up to James and DeRozan, but that hasn’t happened.
“We still have two games left today and then six tomorrow, so we’ll see,” Smiley said late Saturday afternoon.
Smiley said Irving’s playing Saturday “looked like it would be a sure bet, but I don’t know what happened.”
While Saturday’s roster for the Drew League was being played near Compton, California, about 55 miles away in Thousand Oaks, Los Angeles Lakers girls’ basketball skills camp participant Phil Handy posted a video of Irving working with the camp on her Instagram account . .
He coached Handy Irving for five seasons while they were part of the Cleveland Cavaliers organization.
Saturday’s Drew League game was the first glimpse of the 37-year-old James playing basketball in more than three months. He missed seven of the Lakers’ last eight regular season games in the spring with a left ankle sprain and missed 26 games in all 2021-22 games, which ended up being one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history.
“I’m 100 percent healthy,” James told ESPN during the first half of the match.
He finished with 42 points in 18-for-36 shots (2 for 13 of 3), 16 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists. DeRozan, a Drew League key player who invited James to play for Casper Ware from Southern California, scored 30 points in a 9-for-23 shot with 14 rebounds.
James and DeRozan, aka the MMV Cheaters, trailed the Black Pearl Elite by as much as seven points in the fourth quarter before coming back up again.
DeRozan fed James for a two-handed immersion, a curved edge with 1:22 staying put the MMV six ahead and seemed to be in control. But BPE followed with a 3-pointer and layup created by stealing an inside pass, and James was suddenly in danger of losing his first Drew League game in over a decade.
After the time was up, MMV sent the ball to James, who had a foul 4.5 seconds ago, sending him to the free throw line with his team until 103-102.
I made the first. Then things got interesting.
I walked up to LeBron to the end, and said, ‘Hey, I need one [miss]He then said Mike Noabuzur of BPE, who plays professionally abroad. So that was probably the best moment. But the whole game was fun. Big competition. It’s great to share the court with him.”
James missed the second free throw, but BPE’s Ethan Alfano put a 3 match potential win at the bell that failed, and James raised his fist in victory.
“I thought we could really pull it off,” said Alfano, who recently signed a two-year contract to play in South Korea. “We’ve had a few mistakes along the way. But, man, this is a lifelong dream to play against, with anything with LeBron James. Blessing share the court with him.”
It was James’ first appearance in the Drew League — which was founded in 1973 and has seen the pilgrimage of NBA players descend into the gym at Charles Drew Jr. High School during the summer for decades — since the NBA shutdown in 2011.
“When it first happened it was a surprise to Barun [Davis] “Bring him to play, I think he’d just come to watch, get excited to see the crowd and the match and then he wanted a shirt,” Smiley said.
Davis was one of about a dozen former or current NBA players who were out to watch Saturday, a group that also included Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors. Montrezel Harrell by Charlotte Hornets; Kendrick Nunn and Tallinn Horton Tucker of the Lakers.
Irving’s absence erased much of the intrigue in the day surrounding James and his former teammate.
Irving recently made 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 will be eligible to sign an extension with Los Angeles starting next month.
Sources told ESPN that Los Angeles has engaged Brooklyn in business talks in recent weeks to try to acquire Irving in a deal that would send Russell Westbrook to The Nets. So far, those talks have not progressed toward an agreement.
Instead, the focus was on the court, with James—four years of his tenure at the Lakers—dedicating himself to the Los Angeles basketball scene.
“For him to be here and come into the middle of the ‘hood where normal people are every day looking at him, he’s a star so for him to come in here and give these people his presence, I think it’s a great drug,’” Alfano said. It’s great for the community.”
“It was just an epic afternoon basketball game,” Smiley added.