Advertisement

Born to fail?: Bronny James, Charlie Woods and the impossible footsteps of LeBron and Tiger | Opinion

You could call them rich and entitled. You might be right. Their name and fame are inherited; so, too, the wealth. Chances are pretty good they will never need to carry a lunch pail or punch a time clock.

It might even be tempting to privately wish they fail, because the darker side of human nature can involve stuff like jealousy, and resentment of silver-spoon offspring.

I get all that, and still I feel sorry for Bronny James and Charlie Woods.

The footsteps they chose to follow are impossibly big, big enough to swallow them whole and cast them as failures waiting to happen. “Chose to follow” might not even be the right phrase, because when you are gifted with a bloodline like that, your path may be preordained.

We have come to use G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) much too loosely in sports, but the argument for LeBron James in basketball and Tiger Woods in golf would be an easy one. Across all sports, they are generational, timeless talents whose names, like those of Babe Ruth and Muhammad Ali, will be eternal.

Imagine being their sons? Bronny is a 19-year-old freshman on Southern Cal’s basketball team and Charlie, at 15, just played in his first PGA Tour prequalifying event.

Both are experiencing the ugly side of their bloodline and name. It involves attention big and hot enough to scald. And it involves failure, which, relative to their father’s success, feels all but inevitable.

Because the comparisons will always be there, and no matter how good they become in their own right, Bronny and Charlie were born to fail.

LeBron was angered and took to social media this week when ESPN’s NBA mock draft excluded Bronny from this summer’s draft and projected him instead for the 2025 draft. Bronny himself has not announced a decision whether he will be one-and-done at USC or return for a sophomore year, but the estimation of ESPN’s experts panel clearly is that he isn’t NBA-ready.

His father, the Lakers’ superstar still playing at an All-Star level even at age 39, wrote two tweets that he has since deleted.

“Can y’all please just let the kid be a kid and enjoy college basketball?,” James wrote in the first. “The work and results will ultimately do the talking no matter what he decides to do. If y’all don’t know he doesn’t care what a mock draft says, he just WORKS! Earned Not Given!”

The second tweet read, “And to all the other kids out there striving to be great just keep your head down, blinders on and keep grinding. These Mock Drafts doesn’t matter one bit! I promise you! Only the WORK MATTERS!! Let’s talk REAL BASKETBALL PEOPLE!”

That second tweet was followed by a victory sign and crown emojis.

Bronny was pegged a likely first-round selection, maybe even a lottery pick, but a cardiac scare last summer shelved him for four months and delayed him playing for Southern Cal. His season has since been been a disappointment, averaging only 5.5 points, mostly off the bench. His defense might be pro-level, but his shooting is not, at 37.1 percent on field goals, 27.5 from three-point range and 62.1 on free throws.

The ‘25 mock draft pegs him the 39th overall NBA pick. That’s well into the second round.

He might still have a future in the league. Meantime it is disingenuous for LeBron to blame the media for the attention or pressure Bronny might be feeling. It is his father who has talked openly, and for a while, about wanting to play long enough to play alongside Bronny on the same team.

LeBron can be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there is speculation any team wishing to sign him had better commit to draft Bronny this summer or in ‘25.

There is no certainty Bronny will make the NBA, let alone be a star, let alone be what his father is. That does not make him a failure ... but might seem to in the inevitable comparisons to his father.

You see this story play out across sports and across time, but rarely as visibly.

Tom Brady’s eldest son, Jack, plays high school football as a free safety and, yes, quarterback.

Lionel Messi’s son, Thiago, is 12 and plays soccer, too. The spotlight and outsized expectations on him will be global.

There is a reason Brady has said of his son: “I wouldn’t choose for him to [play football] because there’s too many crazy expectations that people would put on him, most of them probably very unfair.”

Hank Aaron set the home run record with 755. His younger brother, Tommie, hit .229 with 13 homers across seven middling big-league seasons.

The bloodline can be an unreliable thing, and cruel sometimes.

There are exceptions.

Marvin Harrison is a Hall of Fame former NFL receiver. His son Marvin Jr., starred at Ohio State and is pegged a top-five pick in this spring’s NFL Draft with All-Pro expectations.

Far more common is a situation like that of Dwyane Wade’s eldest son, Zaire, who is 22 with NBA hopes seeming slim. He averaged 1.8 points per game in the G League and last played for the Cape Town Tigers in the Basketball Africa League.

This does not make him a failure. Zaire is probably better than 99 percent of every kid who ever picked up a basketball.

He is not Dwyane Wade, is all, and seems to be handling it just fine, thanks.

“Growing up, having parents who were successful, especially doing something in the same field, it’s tough,” Zaire told ESPN last year. “But I think that’s where growth comes in. I’m learning that I’m not going to be able to please [everybody] at the end of the day.”

Charlie Woods we all saw grow up. His father of course won 15 golf majors, second most ever after only Jack Nicklaus.

Charlie, at age 15, just attempted to qualify for his first PGA Tour event at the Cognizant Classic in Palm Beach. Clearly not ready for the stage, he shot a 16-over-par 86 in a prequalifying event, finishing tied for 110th of 112 golfers. Tiger was not in attendance but mom Elin Nordegren followed her son.

There were no gallery ropes for the round, because prequalifiers typically attract no-name golfers and very little crowds. But prequalifiers have never before included Tiger Woods’ kid. A large trail of raucous fans walked the fairway uncomfortably close to Charlie as his round crumbled shot by errant shot.

I root for Charlie Woods and Bronny James and any offspring doing something a parent did historically well. I root for their success and for their ability to handle something less.

The riches and fame of such kids may be inherited. But so is the likelihood that no matter how good they become, it will never be good enough.