Retirement is arguably the most life-altering chapter of any professional athlete’s career. It's not normal to hear you’re no longer good enough to keep doing what you’ve done your whole life. Being drafted or even signing a big contract pales in comparison to the mental challenge of retirement.
So it's refreshing to see that JR Smith—best known for his dislike of shirts, signature on-court celebrations, and an immortal meme for confusion—has a pretty clear idea of how he wants to start the next chapter of his life.
Smith was one of the top prospects of the 2004 high school class. He had committed to play for the University of North Carolina but decided to skip college when he declared for the NBA Draft that same year. He was picked 18th by the then New Orleans Hornets (now Charlotte Hornets) and went on to have a fruitful career, including stops at Denver, New York, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. He retired from the NBA with two championship rings.
If Smith was known for anything, it was maximizing the most fun parts of basketball: dunks, threes, and celebrations.
Going to college at age 35 at one of the best historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) most probably would not have been in the top three if one predicted Smith's post-NBA plans. But now Smith is getting a degree in liberal studies at North Carolina A&T State University.
Asked about where he got the idea of possibly going back to college, Smith told The Undefeated that it sprung from a conversation with Ray Allen. He then got in touch with NC A&T through Chris Paul's brother, C.J.
“I was asking [Allen] what does he do all day with being retired and stuff like that,” Smith said. “He said the challenge for him is to go back and challenge his mind, challenge his courage if he can actually do it and maintain it. And he’s actually working with his master’s now. So, it was very inspirational.”
Smith used his passion for golf, which he developed over the years in the NBA, to motivate him to go to a good school (NC A&T has one of the best liberal studies programs among HBCUs). He’ll get a taste of the student-athlete life when he tees off for the Aggies Golf Team in the NCAA.
“By my senior year, I want to be All-American,” Smith said.
“I want to be one of those guys who, you know, people look up to, as a headliner for tournaments when people come to play. One of my biggest goals is to continuously try to recruit and help get people here who have the talent and capabilities to actually, you know, keep going.”
The best part is Smith live-tweeting the first few weeks of his freshman year. He's tweeted about his first assignment, trying to eat healthy on-campus, writing papers, and even pondering a shift in majors. This might be the most relatable a millionaire professional athlete has ever been. Imagine going to your intramurals and facing a former NBA player who once scored 45 points on 11 3-pointers in a real NBA game.
English is my first language but these papers though pic.twitter.com/9uSlfYLKTv— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) August 25, 2021
Facts https://t.co/5VAul9KjbK— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) August 25, 2021
Been up since 5am LA time working on my education assignments. One bad week will not spoil the semester. Lace your boots up put your head up and go to work. #StuccInMyGrind— JR Smith (@TheRealJRSmith) August 30, 2021
Smith promises he'll keep Twitter updated until he graduates. He has his 762,000 followers to keep him accountable.
As a 35-year-old retiree, Smith has probably made enough money to last him several lavish lifetimes. Still, he chose to be an inspiration to his four daughters and his fellow athletes. JR Smith serves as a reminder that life will have chapters. The only way to approach change is to adapt and find yourself in whatever new situation you get yourself into.