Cleveland Cavaliers teammates LeBron James and James Jones both entered the league in the 2003 draft. James was the first overall pick, and Jones came off the board 48 selections later. Over the 13 seasons that have followed, King James has developed the utmost respect for the role player.
Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com passed along comments from the four-time MVP, who called Jones "my favorite player of all time." The two came into the league together, and as long as James gets his way, they will also go out together.
"I told J.J. as long as I'm playing, he's going to be around," James said. "He's not allowed to stop playing basketball. So, I'm going to make sure I got a roster spot for him. I love him. He's the greatest teammate I've ever had."
They first became teammates when James arrived in Miami for the 2010-11 season. After four years and a pair of NBA titles, the Ohio native decided he was ready to return home for a chance to bring a championship to Cleveland.
Jones told McMenamin he "was a little heartbroken" when James told him about the decision. But the conversation didn't stop there.
"So that was the initial part and then the second part was, 'Hey, I want you to come with here and help me change this thing and do something special,'" Jones said.
He explained the thought process he went through as somebody who grew up in Miami and played college basketball for the Miami Hurricanes. But he ultimately opted to follow James north to Cleveland while understanding it could be "a roller coaster."
The Cavaliers' title pursuit fell short with a six-game loss in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors last season. And now, Jones is playing less than 10 minutes per game off the bench for Cleveland during the current campaign.
The 35-year-old still makes an impact as a veteran leader, however, and told McMenamin the love he feels from James is mutual.
"He already knows it's a reciprocation because he's my favorite player ever," Jones said.
Players like Jones, who understand their roles and are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win, are vital to any championship squad. Rarely do they receive the accolades, but their teammates know how important they were throughout the journey.
James and Jones' relationship is a perfect example of that.
Looking ahead, the Cavs are in position to make a deep run in the playoffs as they sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 15-7. James is always going to carry an enormous amount of the burden, but having Jones on the roster seems to provide him with a comfort zone.
Jones' role will continue to comprise mostly of veteran influence. But if injuries arise, he's still capable of providing a spark off the bench by knocking down key shots.