As any basketball fan can tell you, LeBron James is a pretty talented guy. On the court, the Los Angeles Lakers forward is capable of doing just about anything he wants; away from basketball, he’s a pretty savvy entrepreneur. King James’ compliments, however, could use some work; just ask J.R. Smith about that.
Smith and James, of course, shared the court in Cleveland and, barring one infamous moment in the NBA finals, seemed to get along pretty well. In fact, LeBron once paid his teammate a bizarre, if well-meaning, compliment by comparing him to a dolphin.
J.R. Smith and LeBron James were solid teammates, despite the meme
On the surface, LeBron James and J.R. Smith seem to sit at opposite ends of the spectrum; one man is a hyper-focused star while the other has become famous for his poor decisions. Despite those differences, the two teamed up successfully on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After making a name for himself in Cleveland and infamously heading to Miami to chase championships, James returned to Ohio in 2014. That January, Smith, who had made a name for himself in Denver and New York, joined the Cavs via trade.
While everyone remembers Smith’s famous brain freeze in the 2018 NBA Finals, he and James worked pretty well together. The guard’s outside shooting helped make space for LeBron on the offensive end and caused problems out of the pick and roll; he was also a tough defender, although that side of his game slipped over the years.
Smith also stated that LeBron had a major impact on his life. “His work ethic and his drive changed my life,” the guard explained on “All The Smoke.” “He helped me. ‘There’s a reason why you’re here.’ … He pounded that s–t into my head so much that every day I was at the gym like three, four times a day.”
LeBron James once compared his teammate to a dolphin
J.R Smith’s appreciation of LeBron James wasn’t one-sided, though. The star forward also praised his Cavs teammate, albeit in a much more bizarre way.
In summer 2016, James appeared on The Undefeated’s “Open Run” podcast. During the conversation, Jesse Williams and Stefan Marolachakis posed a unique question about J.R. Smith: if the guard were an animal, which did LeBron think he would be?
After bemoaning the fact that he didn’t have much time to think about his answer, James made his choice and settled on a marine mammal.
“I don’t know, man, JR is like a dolphin, man,” James said, according to SLAM. “You know why? I watch a lot of these… what is it called, Open Water? Or National Geographic, and dolphins like, they’re really killers. Sharks are afraid of them. But, they gotta have a group around them to become the best of their ability… And incredibly smart.”
J.R. Smith will get to join a pretty good group around him in Los Angeles
When the NBA season resumes in Orlando, teams will be able to sign additional reinforcements to bolster their roster. With Avery Bradley opting out of the restart, the Lakers are reportedly signing J.R. Smith to take his place.
While it’s easy to look as Smith as that goofy guy who spawned an iconic meme, LeBron’s allusion to dolphins thriving in a group illustrates how he could fit with the Lakers. The guard isn’t going to carry a team to a championship singlehandedly, but, with James and Anthony Davis on the roster, that isn’t a problem. Smith can slot in as a veteran roleplayer, knocking down a few shots, playing some defense, and eating a few minutes off the bench. As Mo Dakhil laid out for Bleacher Report, he could serve an important role down the stretch.
Could J.R. Smith be the missing piece that helps LeBron James and his Lakers fend off the Western Conference’s ‘sharks’ en route to an NBA title? At this point, only time will tell.