It’s not always easy playing with one of the best players in basketball history. Just ask former Cleveland Cavaliers guard JR Smith, who recently opened up about playing alongside LeBron James.
The two played together in Cleveland from 2015-2018; both were instrumental in bringing the Cavaliers’ only championship home in 2016.
“… Honestly, it’s a gift and a curse playing with Bron. I love Bron to death, and I love playing on his team because, for me, I feel like I thrive more under the pressure,” Smith said, per Jenna Lemoncelli of the New York Post. “But a lot of guys don’t like it because it can go one of two ways.
The “pressure” Smith is describing is LeBron’s quest for championships. Already at four, LeBron is in a legacy race at this stage of his career, looking to chase down other NBA greats like Michael Jordan (six rings) in his quest for immortality.
Smith Addresses Lakers-LeBron Situation
LeBron’s quest for rings is also what led him to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and join the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018.
James won a championship with the Lakers in 2020 — the so-called “Bubble Title” — but since then have not exactly been the post-children of quality play. Despite winning two straight and seven of their last ten, the Lakers are No. 9 in the Western Conference.
Smith, for his part, joined LeBron and the Lakers for six games in 2020. He offered an explanation of what the pressure is like on LeBron’s lesser-established Lakers running mates:
“And I think for a lot of guys, it’s hard to — especially with the day and age we in, social media… we got analysts running around talking crazy. And you playing on that team and I think they’re [the Lakers] what, 12th or 13th? And they are still the most talked-about team on TV.
“So, it’s always going to be that supporting cast of who’s not doing what… if you’re not built for that, you’re not made for that, it’s going to eat you alive.”
If anyone knows that pressure to perform, it’s Smith. In 2018, Smith famously dribbled the ball out during the last four seconds of Game 1 of the Finals…with the game tied. The endless memes were little consolation to LeBron & Co., who went on to lose the game (and the entire Finals).
Mitchell Breaks Smith’s Cavs Record
After LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavaliers were thrust back into a state of lottery-beholden mediocrity.
But after wandering the wilderness for half a decade, the Cavaliers are back, thanks in part to Donovan Mitchell‘s arrival to Lake Erie. So far this season, Mitchell has lit up the scoreboard, scorching Cavs records, including the most points in a single game (71).
On Wednesday, he bested Smith’s Cavaliers record for most threes in a season.
“It’s an honor,” Mitchell said after the game, per Chris Fedor of cleveland.com. “The season he did it, I was a Cleveland Cavalier fan. I’m watching the Cavs on TV and screaming. To be able to say I’m part of history in this organization and a guy who lives not too far from me, I’ve worked out with him a thousand times, played pickup with him a thousand times, it’s truly special.”
Mitchell also threw out a heartfelt apology to Smith.
“Swish, sorry I had to do it to you but it’s a full-circle moment for me and I really appreciate it,” Mitchell said.
Smith was an integral part of that championship-winning Cavs squad. He poured in 204 threes that season, hitting 40% of them. Further, he was Cleveland’s starting two-guard, starting all 77 games that he appeared in that season.