By George Adamopoulos/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Moving his talents to the Basketball Champions League has been a positive experience for Jordan McRae. The American swingman averaging 11.8 points per game is part of a 4-0 start for AEK Betsson in Group D of the Regular Season.
The ongoing campaign is his fourth since the last appearance in the NBA. Logging 125 games played from 2016 to 2020, his run in the league included becoming an NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. Quite an upgrade from being invited to the LeBron James camp to making it to the NBA and winning it all as a teammate of LeBron James.
McRae, 32, talked to Eurohoops about James, from playing with him to building a relationship with the “King”.
“I am not shocked that he is still playing at the level he is playing. I am not shocked, but it is still amazing,” he said referring to how much work James puts in, “He has been at the same level. He has been the leader of his team for 21 straight years, not counting his high school years. It is amazing.”
The conversation centering on the four-time NBA champion quickly went into understanding the game. “All the stories that you hear about him, telling the other team’s player where to go, it is 100% true,” confirmed McRae, “His IQ, his love for the game, it is unmatched.”
“He acknowledges everybody”
Rewinding to the championship parade and LeBron giving him a shout-out during his speech further tightened their bond.
“He acknowledges everybody on his team. From the players who do not play, to the towel boys, to everybody,” he said, “That just really speaks who he is as a person.”
McRae played in 54 games with the Cavaliers, including two in the 2016 Playoffs. “It is crazy how sometimes your career can just go,” he recalled, “I was just on the Phoenix Suns about one or two months before that. Then I got on the Cavs, won a championship, and became really close with those guys. That is just something that everybody could just dream about.”
Kyrie Irving was among his teammates at the franchise based in Ohio.
“It was always good off the court. On the court, sometimes things can look a lot worse than what they are. You have two of the best players in the world trying to figure it out. Sometimes there is a little argument here or there. It is a part of it. But it is all love with those guys,” he told Eurohoops about Irving and James.
Moving to the current status of LeBron with the Los Angeles Lakers, McRae talked about the restrictions on playing time at this stage of his illustrious career. “You want him to try to cut down his minutes as much as possible,” he replied, “Having him on the court, you always have a chance to win.”
His former teammate standing among the best to ever play basketball is not a real discussion anymore, especially not for McRae.
“I don’t think we have,” he replied to a question about players of a similar age competing at such a high level, “I know MJ was pretty good. But this fast, this athletic still, I am not sure that we will ever see something like this again.”
“I don’t think so,” he added on whether another player such as LeBron James will surface in the future, “I just think at his size, 6’8, probably 265, his speed, his athleticism, his IQ, he’s become a shooter over his career. I am not sure we will ever see anything like that again.”
“LeBron does not make calls and say cut him”
James, 38, acting like a general manager over his career has often been discussed. “When you are a star in the NBA, when you are the franchise of the team, I think that if the GM is going to make a choice, I think that is a conversation that they should have,” reacted McRae, “But LeBron does not make calls and say ‘cut him’ or ‘get rid of him’. He is not that kind of guy.”
“It is hard for people to believe, but LeBron is probably the most normal people that you would ever meet. He is kind. He is nice. He is funny,” he commented on his discussions with James, “Sometimes you forget who he is.”
“LeBron James is a phenomenal basketball player. Probably one of the best. But he is human at the end of the day,” added the current star of AEK in the Champions League.
“People going to blame you”
Like most successful players at any level, criticizing decisions on and off the court is probably a simple way to break in at the personal and professional level.
“I think when you are LeBron James, when you are who you are, people going to blame you for things that you have nothing to do with and then they are not going to give enough praise at times,” noted McRae, “I think that is all part of being great.”
“He loves the game. I think something that a lot of people will not understand, is he sees the game probably four steps ahead of everybody else,” he added, “Sometimes it may look like he is upset, but he loves it. He is passionate about it. He wants to win.”
The hard truth
Playing alongside LeBron has been a huge part of McRae’s career. From following to contributing to the path to greatness, the former Tennessee standout is excited to share his opinion on his former teammate.
“I think the hard truth is he surpassed everything that everybody ever thought he would,” he stressed, “Being a 17-year-old kid on ESPN and them telling him being a champion is not enough, being an All-Star is not enough. He has to be a Hall of Famer. They say he can score. Now he is the number one scorer. I don’t know what else you really want from a guy like that.”
Watching LeBron capture another NBA championship is his wish. “I would love to see him win one more time,” he mentioned, “Just somebody who’s dedicated his whole life to it. Seeing guys like that succeed, is always good.”
Attaching the 2016 NBA championship in some form to the peaks of his connection with James would not be far-fetched.
“My favorite moment would be him talking after we were down 3-1,” remembered McRae, “Seeing how calm he was. Seeing that his demeanor did not change. I am not sure if he was nervous or scared. But the fact that he did not let anybody else know that he was nervous or scared, I think that was just like the perfect teammate. Being a leader, that was perfect for us to see him not panic at all. Ultimately, we came back and made history.”
“So many plays that come to mind. So many passes, dunks, rebounds. Telling the stories on the plane. It’s not even basketball. It is about money, about wine, about all those different things,” he added, “I took a lot from him.”
Concluding the interview, McRae recalled becoming a teammate of James.
“For a kid that went to LeBron James camp, who used to watch his whole upbringing from high school to number one pick to winning championships, now being on his team. It is not nervous. You just want him to respect you as a basketball player,” he said.