If you tried to design the perfect environment in which to raise a competent, high-achieving athlete, it would look a lot like how LeBron James has raised his son.
Bronny James has enjoyed access to the best equipment, the best competition, the best advice and the best health care. His dad, along with mom Savannah James, made sure of it — coming from a single-parent household and moving a lot, LeBron wanted stability first and foremost for his own children.
I saw firsthand how one of the most famous athletes in the world strove to be a doting father. He showed up courtside at Bronny’s games, and helped create tournaments for Sierra Canyon to star in. While Bronny was always saturated with media coverage, LeBron and Savannah kept him from interviews throughout his high school career, trying to give him a little more time to be a kid. When the Lakers were out of town, you could catch LeBron streaming the Sierra Canyon game on his phone from his locker, showing teammates highlights of Bronny’s dunks and steals.
Suffice to say: Bronny James had every advantage in basketball, a journey his father wanted him to earn but still find his way to success. But even then the unthinkable wriggles through a parent’s tight, protective embrace.
It was stunning on many fronts for the 18-year-old, who less than a week ago the world considered a hale and hearty emerging basketball talent. Many, many times, LeBron would talk about his desire to play with his son in the NBA. Now, while a spokesman for the family has said Bronny’s condition is much improved under the watchful care of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in L.A., his basketball dreams are on hold — after all, certain aspects of life just seem less important after a brush with death.
How could this happen? While the particulars of Bronny’s case are not yet publicly known, what should alarm us all is just how common it is for the heart of a young, seemingly healthy athlete to stop beating.
The Louis J. Acompora Foundation reports that approximately 250,000 people die every year from sudden cardiac arrest, which is not the same as a heart attack. A sliver of these are young people, even high-achieving athletes who seemingly have no prior medical signs. Louis J. Acompora was one of these people. He died during a lacrosse game in 2000.
Dr. Scott Jerome, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said numerous things can stop a heart: congenital defects (such as anomalous coronary arteries), infections (which can cause inflation); the hardening of the heart ventricles (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) and other causes. One thing these issues have in common: They can easily go undetected before a catastrophic event.
“You may be an athlete who has gone through some screening,” Dr. Jerome said. “But we can’t screen for everything.”
Some are just freakish: Upon hearing about what happened to Bronny James, many people probably immediately thought of Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who dropped to the field with a sickening thud in January on “Monday Night Football.” He suffered from commotio cordis, when the heart stops beating after being hit at just the right moment, knocking off its steady pulse.
I thought of Danny Berger, a basketball player I covered at Utah State who was brought back to life during an on-court practice session. He had a different condition, and later required a defibrillator to be surgically implanted in his chest. He has lived long past that moment, long enough in fact to give perspective on what happened to Hamlin.
Then there’s Peter Lake, the Loyola Blakefield lacrosse player whose life was saved by an AED after he took a shot to the chest in 2021.
These are actually the happy stories, and they have something in common: Someone was in the immediate vicinity to administer CPR or a lifesaving automated external defibrillator. While we’ve yet to hear if Bronny James had access to such treatment, given that he went into cardiac arrest in a USC gym, it’s worth betting dollars to donuts that his life was saved by CPR or an AED, too.
There are many incredible facets of an AED: A voice will issue commands from it, instructing someone how to place its pads on the chest of someone suffering cardiac arrest. An AED can assess on its own whether to shock the person, and it will give a warning when it is about to deliver a charge. If you’re still not confident about your ability to use one as a layman, you can watch innumerable free instructional videos online, including ones for children.
The best thing about AEDs, however, is how common they are. In Maryland, public schools are required to have them on school grounds and at athletic events. Enterprising folks also try to get them put in public places such as malls, and Breanna’s Law — named for Breanna Sudano, a Perry Hall High School student who was saved by CPR and AED — requires all state students to learn CPR to graduate high school. My colleague Meredith Cohn has reported extensively that experts suggest every one of these high-profile incidents is a reminder for more people to get CPR training and advocate for AED access.
“The quicker you can shock somebody,” Dr. Jerome said, “the better chance they’re going to be great. We should have these devices everywhere. And we should have emergency action plans, so people know what to do in an emergency.”
The smallest bit of responsibility we can take is to know, if we are at a school or an athletic event, where the nearest AED is. They are meant to be in easily spottable areas, unencumbered by locks. Sometimes they are in storage sheds, or under counters in snack shacks, or elsewhere that may not be obvious when every second counts — we should spot these hazards and move them.
If AEDs are not in the places they are supposed to be, or perhaps aren’t in the places they should be, we should ask public officials: Why is that? Nonprofits like the Louis J. Acompora Foundation have helped AEDs proliferate in many states and schools across the country, but we can probably, collectively, do more.
We should brush up on CPR (especially, ahem, those of us who weren’t in high school after the CPR requirement went into effect in 2015) and make sure, if an AED isn’t readily available, we can save the people we love, even if the worst hits. I was a Boy Scout two decades ago, but it’s probably worth a refresh.
None of us should be naive enough to think it could never happen to us. What happened to Bronny James should be a reminder: It can happen to absolutely anyone.