Lakers’ JR Smith took fatherly advice on his way back to the NBA

first_imgSmith has undoubtedly been rusty in the restart. He said it’s also been difficult being away from his family again: He estimates he spends up to six hours a day on FaceTime with his daughters – even the youngest at 2 years old brings the phone to her mother, eager to call Dad.Earl Jr., like any sports father, thinks his son could benefit from a few more touches. But more importantly, he sees his J.R. fulfilled back on the job.“This is the happiest I’ve seen J.R. in years – the happiest I’ve seen him since he won the championship,” Earl Jr. said. “It was depressing for a while. Every man cries for a reason, and he had a reason. But when J.R. is in something and committed to it, he’s in it 110 percent.” Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Errorcenter_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with Packers“It was a lot, but it’s funny,” he said. “Because once you’re on a bike, and you’re cruising, you don’t really think about it too much until you gotta turn around and go back.”So yes, J.R. Smith’s return to the NBA for the first time since November 2018 is like riding a bike.Everyone is getting used to the strangeness of playing out the season in the Disney bubble, but returning to the structure – the practices, the film sessions, the team dinners – has felt easy for Smith, a 15-year veteran who has spent almost half his life in the NBA.Even though he is the most recent Laker newcomer after signing in June, he has some of the most robust and complex handshakes with teammates that he executes at introductions before every game. He hasn’t played much during the restart, only 54 minutes in five games, but that hasn’t mattered as much as simply being in the league again.When did it feel like Smith had blended into the Lakers’ locker room? Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs “The first day he got here: Everybody’s known him,” said Danny Green, who came up in the same Northeast hoop circles as Smith. “We’ve all played against him for years. He’s played with most of these guys here. They’ve all known him, shown love, grew up in the same area with the guy, so first day he was himself, and he was happy and excited. And it was like, he’s here, so he’s just a part of the group.”Shaking a stigmaBy his own admission, Smith’s comeback from the pits of a “depressed state” is a fairly remarkable one.In his last year with the Cavaliers in the 2018-19 season, the franchise began to pivot to a rebuild after LeBron James moved on and was set to reduce his minutes. Smith pushed back. He publicly accused the franchise of tanking, after which Smith and the Cavs agreed to split, with Smith on his own away from the team while a trade could be worked out. The trade never materialized, and he was waived in July 2019, at which point he began to realize getting back in the NBA might be harder than he thought.Smith declined to discuss the specific challenges of getting back into the league with the Southern California News Group, but he told the Inside the Green Room podcast that he believed persistent off-court rumors about his character were to blame – which he and his family have said were unfair.Smith has a reputation as an NBA wild card: His tenure with the Cavaliers included a famous anecdote of him throwing a bowl of soup at assistant coach Damon Jones, and he also was meme’d for a Game 1 mistake in 2018 when he allowed the game with the Warriors to go to overtime rather than taking a final shot. More seriously, in May, he was filmed in a fight with a man whom he accused of vandalizing his truck during a George Floyd protest in Los Angeles.While Smith acknowledges these past incidents, he also wishes equal weight were given to his track record as an NBA veteran and key player on several title-contending teams.“It is what it is, honestly,” he said. “People are going to have that perception of me. I’m convinced of it. There’s nothing I can really do to change that except just come every day and dedicate myself, and just be consistent.”But it’s hard to be consistent when the professional life you’ve known falls out from under you. Without basketball, Smith came unmoored living with his family in Warren, N.J. He stopped playing basketball, stopped watching basketball, stopped even playing basketball-themed video games. He gained weight. He became less interested in hearing from his agent, Rich Paul, if anyone wanted him because the news was increasingly grim. He got to spend a lot of time with his four daughters, but that was a silver lining as his career slowly kept drifting away.Renewed dedicationOne of the loudest voices in his corner was Earl Jr., who told his namesake son that his career wasn’t over. Smith is close with his dad and listens – “my dad is probably right 90 percent of the time, but don’t tell him that,” he said – and Earl’s message was some serious tough love.“If you ain’t gonna play, now you gotta find something to do,” Earl said he told his son. “I thought, ‘Get your ass in shape, go to L.A. Do your thing. Go make some goddamn money for those little girls.”Smith made the difficult decision to relocate to Los Angeles, where he would have better access to training. Especially during the NBA hiatus, the combination of biking and a vegan diet made him lose 20 pounds – in a show of support, Earl Jr. went vegan for a few months, too.Without this renewed dedication, Smith said, he wouldn’t have been physically ready to play when the Lakers came calling in June to swap him in for Avery Bradley.“The weight I was at, how my body would have had to respond to recovering to playing, I don’t think it would have happened,” he said. “My body wouldn’t have been able to handle it. … At the end of the day, just thank God you have the opportunity to play this game again. Be thankful, be humble, and take it in stride.”Related Articles LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — For a year-and-a-half, the fiercest competition J.R. Smith had was with his brothers – not on the court, but on wheels.It was at the start of the pandemic when the 34-year-old bought a bike, looking for a way to safely get out of the house and lose weight. He’d ride up and down Venice Boulevard. He’d ride through the Pacific Palisades. He’d ride to Manhattan Beach.Always hungry for a contest, the Smith family tracked their biking miles on an app that they checked every day. Earl Smith Jr., J.R.’s father, saw his sons Demetrius and Chris peddling along at about 12 miles a day; J.R. would hit 20 miles: “After a while,” Earl said, “it wasn’t even close.”With practice, J.R. said, he found his mind would simply settle as he rode.last_img read more