|Carmelo Anthony says life wasn't all smiles for LeBron James before James won a ring. (Getty Images)|
Is it possible to be the greatest in the world at something but think of your skill as a chore or a burden?
In an SI.com video interview, Anthony, who knows James well, says his friend couldn't find satisfaction from basketball until he finally won the title last season.
"I think, believe it or not, he's become more humble than he was before. This whole experience has humbled him as a person, as a basketball player. It definitely took a big burden off of his shoulders. At the end of the day, for him, it's just enjoying it. I don't think he really enjoyed playing, had fun playing, the basketball game up until he won the championship. Now I think you'll see some of his better days.
"Everybody can't win a championship. You have some of the greatest of the greats who haven't won a championship who had great, successful NBA careers. The cream of the crop wins NBA championships, and he did that."
We would be foolish to take Anthony too literally here. Surely, James enjoyed dunking on everyone's heads, racking up MVP awards and All-Star Game appearances, landing major endorsement deals, becoming rich beyond his wildest dreams and everything else that he accomplished since being the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. This surely wasn't a moment-to-moment misery.
But pressure and expectations are powerful devices, and Anthony has more personal insight than most into James' state of mind. Especially after forming the "Big 3" in 2010, James dealt with a cloud of criticism day in and day out. Every accomplishment was tainted because it wasn't the one that mattered; every failure was magnified because anything less than the absolute best from the league's premier player was a disappointment.
He felt it. It influenced his performance in the 2011 Finals, it shaped his approach to his offseason work before the 2011-12 season and it seemed to drive him through some adversity during his sensational run through the 2012 playoffs. He even admitted it popped back up when he went down with cramps late in the 2012 Finals.
The release that Anthony is describing was evident, too. James' unbridled joy at winning. His dancing on the court. His clutching of the Finals and Finals MVP trophies. His killer play in the Olympics.
This all sets up one of the biggest storylines of the 2012-13 season: Will an unburdened LeBron James be an even deadlier weapon?