CLEVELAND -- To those who share the court, locker room and trips across the country with him, Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James is a special player that turns an uncommon desire and drive to succeed into real-world results.
And shooting guard J.R. Smith is one of the first to trumpet James’ virtues when given the opportunity to speak on the Cavaliers’ unquestioned on-court leader.
“He’s a physical specimen,” Smith said prior to Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals. “It looks like he was made in a lab. If you curated a player on 2K, you couldn’t make a better player than LeBron. Just from height-wise, athletic ability, unbelievable brain for the game, knows the history of the game, you can’t create, literally, a better player.”
Despite coming up on the losing end of The Finals for the fifth time in eight trips after a five-game series with the Golden State Warriors, James made plenty of history this postseason. James averaged a triple-double of points, rebounds and assists over the five games, a first for the NBA Finals.
James averaged 33.6 points, 12.0 rebounds and 10.0 assists while shooting .564 from the field and .387 from three-point range against the Warriors.
“Unbelievable,” Smith said. “He leads by example every, single day. He’s the best player in the world and you see him continuously working on his game, working on his body, working on the mental aspect, watching film. That intrigues you to do more at all times.”
Reserve guard Deron Williams added, “He’s the best. Not only the best player in the game, but he’s a great teammate, a great leader. He pushes guys. He holds guys accountable, and that’s what you want from your best player. At the same time, he’s the hardest worker on the team, so when you do all those things, you’re going to be great.”
For most of his basketball career, James has been chasing the ghost of arguably the greatest player in the sport’s history, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan.
In one sense, James caught up to at least part of that ghost when he passed Jordan for the most points scored in NBA Playoffs history with a 35-point showing in a 135-102 closeout win over the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at TD Garden last month.
Then, against the Warriors, James passed Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson for the most triple-doubles in NBA Finals history.
According to shooting guard Iman Shumpert, James is the type of player who leads by example, one willing to “put himself on the front line” at all times.
“When you have that type of leader, you pretty much have an easy route as far as getting on the same page and communicating, making sure that we know what’s coming, making sure we know what the adjustment is in advance,” Shumpert said.
“It’s amazing to see how many steps ahead he is. You’re used to one or two steps ahead, but a guy that knows what you want to run quarter by quarter, he knows what guy you’re trying to get going at certain times of the game.
“There are times where we’re entering the second quarter and he’s telling me before we go out there that they’re about to run the next three plays to try to get this guy going, and if we stop him, this game’s over. He’s just been playing so much basketball. He’s seen every coach’s scheme, and the best thing about it is he’s willing to share it with all the guys on the team.”