J.R. Smith believes playing alongside LeBron James “is a gift and a curse.”
During the latest installment of HBO’s “Game Theory with Bomani Jones,” Smith — who won two championships with James, one with the Cavaliers and the other with the Lakers — explained why some players could get eaten alive by the pressure of playing with the 19-time NBA All-Star.
“S–t,” Smith said, laughing, when asked what it’s like for current players to be teammates with “this older version” of the 38-year-old James.
“… 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.
“But a lot of guys don’t like it because 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. It’s like, bro, don’t get me wrong — yes, he had 40-15-9 or 8 — but he missed a free throw, too.
“Don’t just look at me because I missed an open shot. We all missing out here,” he continued.
Smith went on to explain that the spotlight follows James even when his team isn’t performing well.
“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,” Smith said. “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.”
The Lakers currently sit in the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference with a record of 32-34.
Smith and James were teammates with the Cavaliers from 2015-18 and won a championship in the 2015-16 season.
They played together on the Lakers for one last season in 2020, when they won a championship in the Disney Bubble.
Smith failed to mention the infamous moment when he felt the wrath of James — and the city of Cleveland — during Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors.
With the score tied at 107 and 4.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Smith dribbled out to half court instead of attempting a potential game-winning shot at Oracle Arena — and the Cavaliers then lost to the Warriors 124-114 in overtime.
James’ distraught reaction to Smith’s play became a viral meme that they’re still reminded of to this day.
After the game, Smith explained that he wasn’t “sure of anything” at the moment, including that the score was tied.
Smith and James obviously got past the blunder and went on to win a title with the Lakers in the 2019-20 season against the Heat.
It marked Smith’s first trip to the postseason since his 2018 NBA Finals gaffe.
Smith and James — who became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer last month — are still good friends outside of the sport.
The Lakers star has supported Smith’s collegiate pursuits at North Carolina A&T State University, where he was a walk-on for the men’s golf team in 2021.
Smith, the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man of the Year, retired in 2020.
The New Jersey native was selected out of high school with the 18th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft.
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