I don’t think there are many people out there who would pass up on the opportunity to play on the same basketball team as someone who was dubbed a generational talent as a high schooler only to surpass the lofty expectations bestowed upon them on their way to becoming one of the most dominant players of all time.
It’s also safe to assume all of the people who played alongside LeBron James during the seasons where he earned one of the four rings he’s racked up over the course of his NBA career are very glad they got the chance to do exactly that.
With that said, being teammates with one of the most legendary talents to ever step on the hardwood can come with some downsides.
J.R. Smith knows that all too well, as the man who spent four years in Cleveland (and one more in Los Angeles) with LeBron drew the ire of The Kid From Akron on more than a few occasions (none of which were more notable than the brainfart that cost the Cavaliers the first game of the NBA Finals in 2018).
Smith—who pivoted to college golf after retiring in 2020—shed some light on the unique pressures that come with sharing a locker room with James during a recent appearance on Game Theory with Bomani Jones.
"He missed a free throw too. Don't just look at me because I missed a open shot. We all missin' out here!"
J.R. Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) on the pressure of playing with LeBron James. pic.twitter.com/lhBj896YqA
— Game Theory with Bomani Jones (@GameTheoryHBO) March 7, 2023
He admitted it’s an environment that can prevent some players from thriving thanks in no small part to the external pressures that come with the job, saying:
“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, but a lot of guys don’t like it.
It can go one of two ways. It’s either ‘What did you not do to help him win?’ and ‘Who else did not help him win?’
Don’t get me wrong. Like, yes, he had 40/15/9/8, but he missed a free throw too! Don’t just look at me because I missed an open shot. We’re all missing out here.
For a lot of guys, it’s hard—especially in the day and age with social media, they’ve got analysts running around talking crazy—and when you’re playing on that [Lakers] team, I think they’re 12th or 13th and they’re still the most talked about team on TV.
It’s always going to be who’s not doing what. If you’re not built for that—if you’re not made for that—it’s going to eat you alive.”
When you consider Smith won a couple of rings with LeBron, I think it’s safe to say it worked out for him in the end.