J.R. Smith Knows Playing Alongside LeBron James Is “A Gift And A Curse”

Former NBA player Earl Joseph Smith III, better known as J.R., enjoyed a pretty good career. After deciding to forgo college, the three-point specialist went on to accomplish a lot in his 16-year NBA career. Smith able to win NBA championships and was even named NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2013 as a member of the New York Knicks.

During his career Smith, a good player in his own right, was able to play with some of the all-time greats like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, winning those two titles with the newly crowned NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

While many say James makes players better, and for the most part he does, Smith says it’s not all peaches and cream playing with someone of James’ caliber. During a recent interview on HBO’s “Game Theory with Bomani Jones,” Smith spoke of what comes with playing with James. 

The Gift & The Curse

“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 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 opening up and saying these things really isn’t all that surprising, as it also was tough playing with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Players like that are always in championship-or-bust mode, which in turn brings on added pressure to their teammates to perform, and when things don’t go well the blame tends to fall on them. 

Supporting Cast Has To Have Tough Skin

Smith says being in a supporting role, a player will either relish it or come apart at the seams. It’s no gray area, and that’s what makes it challenging for players alongside great but polarizing players. 

“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.”

Smith knows the scrutiny firsthand. Who can forget his infamous brain freeze in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals? In the waning seconds of a tied game, Smith rebounded his own free throw and instead of shooting it then he dribbled it out, not realizing the game was tied. James in many ways showed Smith up on the biggest stage, and all folks could talk about was Smith’s error, nothing else. And that was far from the only reason they didn’t win the game or series. 

Smith seemed to handle it pretty well, but most players wouldn’t have handled it as well. 

Off the court, Smith and James’ relationship is still strong, and they did have a lot of success on the hardwood together as well. Smith is now a college student at North Carolina A&T, where he’s also a part of the Aggies golf team. 

As for James, he’s still chasing that “ghost in Chicago,” in his words. 

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