LeBron James has known for a while what RJ Barrett is capable of

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LOS ANGELES — A few years back, LeBron James knew there could be a night like this, a night when RJ Barrett could nearly steal an NBA game from him.

Barrett’s heroics weren’t enough to repel the Lakers Saturday at the newly named Crypto.com Arena, but he took another step toward stardom in racking up a career-high 36 points and sending the game to overtime with a 3-point bucket with eight seconds to go.

The Knicks eventually fell to James and the Lakers, 122-115, with The King recording a triple-double after his return from a five-game absence due to a knee injury.

James shared an anecdote from when Barrett was attending high school in the Toronto area and James was vacationing in Canada during the offseason.

LeBron James RJ Barrett
RJ Barrett (l.) and LeBron James (r.) speak after the Lakers’ win over the Knicks on Feb. 5, 2022.
NBAE via Getty Images

“I’ve been knowing RJ for quite a while now,” James said late Saturday night. “I was in Toronto during the summertime, I think he was a high school junior, and there was a call to my agent, Rich [Paul] that there was a kid in Toronto that was possibly next [one].

“And it was offseason. I was in Toronto, just having a good time in Toronto. But I was going to the gym to get some work in and they called Rich and asked, ‘Can he join?’ And I was like, absolutely.

“So, I’ve been knowing him quite a while. I followed him throughout those last few years of high school and obviously off to Duke and now as a Knick.”

Barrett’s father Rowan, a former St. John’s standout and GM of Team Canada, and his AAU coach Dwayne Washington made the call to Paul, according to the super-agent.

Knicks RJ Barrett LeBron James
RJ Barrett (#(9) goes to the hoop against LeBron James during the Knicks’ loss to the Lakers on Feb. 5, 2022.
Getty Images

Since January, Barrett has been by far the Knicks’ best player in his third season after being the No. 3 overall pick in 2019.

In Los Angeles, Barrett didn’t just rack up 17 points in the first quarter, he did so while guarding James and the Knicks built a 21-point lead in the first half.

“He’s young, so you’re gonna have your bumps and bruises throughout the course of your career,” James said. “When you’re young, you’re figuring out the game; you’re figuring out the speed; you’re figuring out the tempo and things of that nature. But I think he’s handled it extremely well, especially being — it’s a different light and a different heat when you play for the Knicks — and I think he’s handled it extremely well.”

After the final buzzer, James shook Barrett’s hand and said some words.

“When he started the game off — I think he had 17 in the first quarter if I’m not mistaken,” James said. “He hit big-time shots down the stretch. Obviously, the 3 to tie it at 11; the full-court dunk in transition. He just hit key shot after key shot tonight.”

Barrett said after the game he requested the matchup with James from the Knicks assistant coach who had the Lakers as their scouting game.

“Yeah, I did. I was texting everybody trying to figure out (the assistant) who had the scout so I could tell him I wanted to guard him,” said Barrett, who was 4 of 10 from 3-point range.

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