J.R. Smith explains why he didn’t go to college the first time he had the opportunity

Two-time NBA champion J.R. Smith had what he described as “a great childhood” playing sports like baseball, basketball and football with his brothers and cousins. In fact, he credits the time he spent with his family for giving him the competitive edge he needed to become a successful professional athlete. It wasn’t until his junior year of high school that Smith finally decided that basketball would be his future.

Though Smith — who spent 16 years as a professional basketball player and recently made headlines for his enrollment at North Carolina A&T, where he says he intends to play on the golf team — had an opportunity to play college basketball at the University of North Carolina, he ultimately declined, opting to turn professional instead. On this week’s episode of Off Course with Claude Harmon, Smith went into detail on why he initially decided to skip college.

“My family needed money. We were struggling at the time,” Smith said.

Smith’s father had always worked in construction, and had recently fallen ill, Smith explained. Smith’s mother had raised the Smith children and hadn’t worked outside the home.

J.R. Smith playing golf
Two-time NBA champ J.R. Smith is officially taking his talents to college golf
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“When my dad really fell sick and I seen the way people he helped his whole life, as well as his siblings and everybody else, pretty much turn their back on him, when he needed them, I was like, you know what, I gotta do this for my pops,” Smith said. “I gotta do this for my family, I gotta help them and be able, financially, we don’t have to worry about it.”

Smith joked that his dad, now nearing 70, is still out working construction, but the difference is that he wants to, as opposed to needing to.

“I was in a position to where I wanted to play pro ball, and they were going to pay me enough to where I can take care of my whole family,” Smith continued. “So for me, it was pretty much like a no-brainer.”

Luckily for Smith, things worked out. He won two NBA championships with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers. What’s next for Smith? Hey, there’s always the NCAA Individual title!

For more from Smith, including what his first golf experience was like and who his golf heroes are, check out his full interview below.


Golf.com Editor

As a four-year member of Columbia’s inaugural class of female varsity golfers, Jessica can out-birdie everyone on the masthead. She can out-hustle them in the office, too, where she’s primarily responsible for producing both print and online features, and overseeing major special projects, such as GOLF’s inaugural Style Is­sue, which debuted in February 2018. Her origi­nal interview series, “A Round With,” debuted in November of 2015, and appeared in both in the magazine and in video form on GOLF.com.