LeBron James' return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 after four seasons and two championships with the Miami Heat once again revitalized a team that had been steeped in mediocrity for much of its existence.
Cleveland won the Eastern Conference in James' first year back before falling to the Golden State Warriors in last season's NBA Finals. The Cavs hold the top spot in the East once again in 2015-16 as the season enters its final stretch.
While he attempts to deliver a city its first professional sports championship since 1964, James told Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com on Saturday that "winning in Miami was away more pressure than this."
In Miami if you didn't win you bust, straight up, while we were there those four years. I think that was just the pressure around us and we handled it very well. We were a group that really didn't let the pressure get to us too much. We were a veteran group and we actually liked it that. We liked a little conflict, a little pressure.
For those four years in Miami, James was a part of a Big Three that included guard Dwyane Wade and forward Chris Bosh. It's the most talented team James has been surrounded by in his 13-year career, and that cast of players rarely disappointed. Miami made the NBA Finals in each of James' four seasons with the Heat.
In his return to Cleveland, James teamed up with point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love, whom the Cavs acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Andrew Wiggins.
It's a more talented cast compared to his first seven years with the Cavaliers, so expectations might be higher for Cleveland fans. The last time those fans celebrated a championship of any kind was when the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship, two years before the first Super Bowl.
The Indians, the city's Major League Baseball club, last won a World Series in 1948, while the Cavaliers have never won a title in their 46 years.
That kind of pressure doesn't bother James, though:
For me, I understand the history of Cleveland sports, but I'm not a part of the whole history. I'm a part of nine seasons. I'm not a part of 58 seasons, or whatever the hell it is. I don't think the expectations for 50-plus years had been to win a championship. ... For me, I'm going to go out and do my job here, like I've always done, like I've always said. I'm going to get these guys and lead these guys the best I know how and I'll live with the results.
James and the Cavaliers have a 2.5-game lead over the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Eastern Conference and are expected to stay at that summit through the final 18 games of the regular season. They're also expected to make it out of the East and head back to the Finals for the second straight year.
The problem is, they might run into the buzz saw that is the 58-6 Warriors or the 55-10 San Antonio Spurs in the championship round if they do make it. But with reduced pressure from a personal perspective, James can at least play his game freely and lead the Cavaliers to another run toward the title.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.