When LeBron James signed up with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018, the future Hall-of-Famer brought with him the pressure of title expectations.
And he understood that going from Cleveland to being part of one of the most glamorous sports franchises in the world.
“What I’ve learned being a Laker is that the Laker faithful don’t give a damn what you’ve done before until you become a Laker. You gotta do it with them as well,” James said Thursday.
The Lakers, eyeing a 17th NBA title in these NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, have been used to success since their days in Minneapolis, where they won 5 in the 1950s.
When they moved west to California, they spoiled their fan base with championship parades from the Showtime era of the 1980s with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal at the turn of the century.
During Bryant's career twilight and into his retirement, the Lakers experienced an unheard-of stretch of mediocrity.
Enter James, a 4-time MVP and considered the world's best basketball player.
Once he donned the Purple and Gold, however, he realized he needed to start from scratch.
“They don’t care about your resume at all until you become a Laker and you gotta do it as a Laker, then they respect you,” James said.
Much of the skepticism over James going to Los Angeles has been centered on his on-court rivalry with Bryant, whose ardent followers have seen James' arrival as undermining their idol's legacy as a Laker.
“I think one thing (James) learned also is that just because there’s Kobe fans and then there’s Lakers fans . . . so you think they’re one and the same, there’s a difference,” said ESPN analyst Richard Jefferson, James' former Cavaliers teammate.
“And there were Kobe fans that when Bron joined the Lakers were never gonna accept that, that their favorite player and Bron are gonna wear the same jersey and he had a chance to win more titles underneath that Lakers jersey.”
In 2018, when the Lakers signed James, Bryant welcomed the man he believed could help the storied franchise return to its glory days.
“He’s part of the Laker family so when he first came on board I said, ‘Listen is there anything you need?” Bryant said.
“You’re part of this family now so if there’s anything you need, let me know’.”