JR Smith brought home something he cherishes more than a championship. The two-time NBA champion recently revealed his 4.0 GPA throughout the year as a student-athlete at North Carolina A&T University.
However, that was just the icing on the cake of his paused career education. The cherry on top was being named Aggies’ Academic Athlete of the Year.
After winning his second NBA championship with LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, Smith left the league to pursue a degree in liberal arts and play golf at the collegiate level.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 26, 2022
His superstar former teammate sent him some love via Twitter.
“YESSIR, @TheRealJRSmith!!” NBA superstar LeBron James tweeted. “Proud of you, kid!! Love, bro.”
The 36-year-old went straight to the pros from St. Benedict’s Prep high school in Newark, New Jersey, in 2004. However, initially, he was reportedly slated to play basketball at North Carolina before jumping to the NBA Draft.
In 2004, Smith was the 18th overall pick by the New Orleans Hornets. He has also played for the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Last week, Smith landed a name, image, and likeness, or NIL, deal with activewear company Lululemon. He is Lululemon’s first male golf ambassador, according to ESPN. Under the NCAA’s current NIL rules, Smith can’t promote his sponsors at NCAA-sanctioned events. However, Smith can appear in commercials and reference his NIL affiliations on social media.
Additionally, his NIL agreements cannot include a performance bonus related to his respective sport.
If I'm being honest at all, I was tariffed to go back to school… Literally, these assignments still make my heads sweat. Overcoming these fears of being vulnerable and open about my disability has given me real power! Power no one will ever take from me!
— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) April 26, 2022
“If I’m being honest at all, I was tariffed to go back to school… Literally, these assignments still make my heads sweat,” Smith said on Twitter. “Overcoming these fears of being vulnerable and open about my disability has given me real power! Power no one will ever take from me!”
In January, Smith signed a deal with Excel Sports Management for his NIL representation. Although Smith earned over $90M during his NBA career, he let the NIL world know he was open for business while staying focused on being a college student.
JR Smith with some powerful words about his return to school 👏
— ESPN (@espn) April 26, 2022
The Importance Of Academics
Smith was the first athlete to leave the league and begin his post-professional career at a college during the NIL era, and he chose an HBCU.
“My academics are extremely important to me,” Smith said on “SportsCenter” in February. “It gives me more liberty to speak on the things I chose to speak on and what I’m really passionate about,” Smith said.
“One of those things are HBCU schools and golf. Obviously, [HBCUs] (are) not afforded as many resources as other schools, so being able to use my platform, my voice, being able to take my English classes seriously, writing my papers seriously, I’m able to reach out and really express myself in an intellectual way.
“People don’t just look at me as J.R. Smith the basketball player. When they see Earl J. Smith on that english paper, liberal studies paper, or African-American studies paper, they don’t know who J.R. Smith is.”
The Power Of Athletes
Interestingly, Smith is attending an HBCU when Deion Sanders and more are placing much attention on the HBCU athletics marketplace.
Sanders’ son Shedeur signed a NIL deal with Beats By Dre, and the Sanders family is uniquely elevating the profile of HBCUs.
“If I can make a positive impact on young African-Americans and young minorities to try to go back to school and better themselves, to educate themselves, that’s one thing no one can ever take away from me, and I’m proud of that,” Smith said.