As he managed to play alongside, in perhaps the purest form of LeBron James in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers, J.R. Smith understands the unwavering hype and the heavy burden backing up the basketball superstar.
With that, he believes that playing with one of the greatest is considerably a double-edged sword.
“Honestly, it’s a gift and a curse playing with Bron,” Smith said in a recent appearance on Game Theory with Bomani Jones. “I love Bron to death and I love playing on his team because for me, I feel like I thrive more under the pressure. But a lot of guys don’t like it because it can go one of two ways.”
After a lopsided time with the New York Knicks, Smith arrived in Cleveland in the 2014-15 midseason – assuming the bold responsibility of helping James in his second tenure for his hometown team.
And the rest was history. Smith served his own purpose of being the focal marksman of the four-time league MVP, as he contributed to the Cavaliers’ four-straight NBA Finals appearances and the franchise’s magical run towards its first title in 2016.
Amid benefitting with each other, the former cager stressed the criticisms being thrown on them as teammates of James when they don’t play well, which he called as unfair in nature.
Smith notably made one of the most bizarre basketball plays in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, wherein he went on to dribble out the ball as he was mistakenly unaware of the tied ball of the Cavs’ bout against the Golden State Warriors at the final seconds of regulation.
“He missed a free throw too. Don’t just look at me because I missed an open shot. We all missing out here,” Smith continued. “And I think for a lot of guys, it’s hard to – especially with the day and age we in, social media … you got analysts running around, talking crazy. And you playing on that team and I think they’re what, 12th or 13th? And they still the most talked-about team on TV.
“So it’s always gonna be that supporting cast of ‘who’s not doing what,’ and if you’re not built for that, you not made for that, it’s gonna eat you alive.”
Despite this blunderous ending in 2018, Smith still went on to play with James and became a member of the Lakers’ 17th NBA championship last 2020.