LeBron James walked to the podium stoically. He didn’t smile or laugh until one question allowed a peek behind the curtain.
What causes James to feel pressure?
“Nothing,” he said before putting down the microphone he held in his hand.
A pause ensued as a group of reporters waited for more, but James shook his head and smiled to indicate he would offer no more.
“Nothing,” he repeated.
Thus James embarked on his newest journey, wearing the jersey of a team to which he has dreamed of belonging.
Although he signed with the Lakers 11 weeks ago, Monday marked his formal introduction as a member of the franchise. James didn’t hold a news conference after signing a four-year deal worth $153.3 million. His only media appearance since then was in Akron, Ohio, at the opening of a school he helped found.
At Monday’s media day, James set his expectations as he spoke.
“I don’t believe the only mark of success is winning a championship,” he said. “There’s only one champion, but that doesn’t mean you’re not successful. There’s going to be wins and losses, things of that nature. But what you can control is how you prepare every day, how we prepare every day to get better every day.”
The Lakers begin training camp Tuesday in El Segundo. They have gone five seasons without reaching the playoffs, the longest drought in club history. They won 35 games last season, a marked improvement over the previous four seasons, two of which ended with the Lakers setting franchise records for fewest wins in a season.
James joins them as an anticipated savior.
He knows a resurrection won’t happen immediately. A championship will take time. After all, there’s still a team up north that has won three out of the last four championships — all against James and his former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We’ve got a long way to go to get to Golden State,” James said of the two-time defending champion Warriors. “They can pick up right where they left off, starting with training camp, today or whenever they start. We’re picking up from scratch. We’re picking up from scratch. So we have a long way to go.”
The Lakers’ decision-makers don’t expect an immediate turnaround. Magic Johnson, president of basketball operations, and general manager Rob Pelinka said as much last week, removing whatever pressure might have otherwise fallen on coach Luke Walton.
Walton himself acknowledged the need for an adjustment period. He has started thinking about rotations and lineups, but his starting five when the season begins will be conditional. Many of his rotations will be experimental.
“We’re starting over again,” Walton said. “We’ve got a lot of new guys. A lot of it is feeling it out, getting to know each other, getting to see who plays well together. I’m not desperate to find a set rotation right now.”
The players have already started the process of getting to know each other with the time they already have spent in the practice facility. It mostly has been through casual pickup games, but the Lakers’ young players have already begun learning from James.
“I’ve learned how focused he is on whatever he does,” third-year forward Brandon Ingram said.
Whether they say it or not, they are conscious of the extra pressure his addition brings.
“You definitely want to make sure he likes playing with you and make sure the chemistry’s good,” second-year point guard Lonzo Ball said.
Off-the-court adjustments for James won’t be massive. He spends his summers in Brentwood. This is the first year he won’t have to leave town to go to work, and he won’t have to move his family for the season. James spent the previous 15 seasons playing for the Cavaliers and Miami Heat.
He knows the work that awaits will challenge him.
“We’re a new ball club coming together,” James said. “Obviously they have some returning guys, but as far as the ball club we’re all new to each other so we have to take our bumps and bruises. There’s going to be good times, there’s going to be bad times, that’s what happens with a team that’s new.
“But if we continue to work the process and we continue to sacrifice for one another and put in the commitment and time to being great, then everything else will fall into place.”