Commentary: NBA champion J. R. Smith has now earned academic honors at North Carolina A&T State University

NBA Champion J. R. Smith earned academic honors at North Carolina A&T State University

Commentary: NBA champion J. R. Smith has now earned academic honors at North Carolina A&T State University
May 04
11:25 2022

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

The NBA Playoffs are now in full swing. The remaining teams are battling each other tooth and nail. They aren’t giving an inch as each team wants to win the National Basketball Association Championship.

Just a few months ago I coined the expression, “Records can be broken but championships can’t.” With great respect to other players, there are players who have set records, but have not won championships.

On the other hand, there are players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry who have records and championships.

Two of the championships won by LeBron James were with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers. He shared those championships with J. R. Smith. Smith was an NBA player for 16 years. That’s a long time. He played for the New York Knicks and the Denver Nuggets in addition to the Cavaliers and the Lakers.

Make no mistake, J. R. Smith was a prolific player. He was drafted out of high school with the 18th overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. He also received the Sixth Man of the Year trophy in 2013.

J.R. Smith retired in 2020. At his age and with his savings, the world was his oyster, maybe several oysters.

With the many choices he had available to him, what would the next chapter of his life look like?

There are many retired professional basketball players who have gone into coaching. Don Chaney (Houston Rockets) and Avery Johnson (Dallas Mavericks) come quickly to mind.

J. R. Smith chose the road not frequently traveled by many professional athletes. His road led him to enroll at North Carolina A&T State University, an historically Black college and university (HBCU) in Greensboro.

According to those who know, he was encouraged to go to college by Ray Allen, who went to college at the University of Connecticut. He later played professional basketball with the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat.

J.R. Smith gave those of us who reside in the public square a glimpse of his college life through a series of tweets.

Here are a few of them:

“Joined a study group for my African American Studies class on #groupie and my classmates don’t think it’s me.”

“Man, I’ve been eating junk food my whole life and now I got to quit cause I’m learning about nutrition in my #FCS class. African Americans especially have to cut out so much fast food and sugar in our diets. Diabetes rate is way too high and going higher.”

“Is it natural to switch majors? Just asking.”

These tweets are genuine and speak volumes for the seriousness that he takes in his academic pursuits.

As new students, back in the day, we had multiple questions and our curiosity ran rampant. The college experience, no matter the era, is just different.

J. R. Smith wanted to play golf at NC A&T State University. His appeal to the NCAA was approved. Not only was he on the golf team, he was named North Carolina A&T’s Academic Athlete of the Year. He earned a 4.0 GPA and is pursuing a liberal arts degree.

All of the applause, all of the accolades, and all of the achievements that have been a part of the basketball life of J.R. Smith, he is now achieving in the classroom with a new set of teammates and challenges. His three-point shot on the court is now an A in the classroom. We are happy and excited for him. This is a great story.

Let’s toast him by raising a book in honor of J.R. Smith.


James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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