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J.R. Smith isn’t entirely harmless, this is the man that acted as the tragic and pivotal factor in a car crash that killed his best friend in 2007, but if you’re not a fan of the New York Knicks you probably regard him as one of the NBA’s more tolerable oddities. A goofball that isn’t hurting your fandom, because he’s not hoisting 25-footers for your team.
The tricky balance with Smith came to light last winter, when he was caught on tape untying the shoelaces of both Shawn Marion and then Greg Monroe in consecutive games, earning him a $50,000 fine for the second – and I use this term advisedly – “infraction.” No matter how innocuous, the NBA’s front office does not like being openly defied in front of high definition cameras for the second time in three days, and Smith cut out the shoelace-messin’ immediately after.
In a talk with Bleacher Report’s Jared Zwerling, however, Smith (and we use this word advisedly as well, because this is the NBA’s dead season) “revealed” that he’d still be untying the laces had the league not started levying fines.
(Seriously, games need to get here quickly.)
B/R: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?
JRS: People think I’m just some wild child, that I’m just somebody that bugs out all the time and doesn’t care. That’s the main thing that pisses me off the most. People who actually take the time to come [to my golf tournament] and get to know me, they know what I’m about. But some people don’t really care to come.
B/R: Do you think that stems from your occasional antics, like when you got fined last season for untying your opponents’ shoelaces?
JRS: I do care about the fines because it’s loss of money, but other than that, I like to have fun. I would do [the shoelace thing] again if there wasn’t a fine. But now that I’m in my 10th year in the NBA, I take the game more seriously than I did my first five, six years.
(You’ll note that J.R. Smith untied the laces of three players and messed with Vince Carter’s headband in his ninth year, not his fifth or sixth.)
As Brett Pollakoff at Pro Basketball Talk pointed out, the laces nonsense seemed a little misplaced at the time, because Smith was goofing around while working through a terrible personal slump on a Knicks team that was trying to overcome a 12-22 record in a disappointing season. His fine came during one of New York’s many 2013-14 low points, with several writers taking to their laptops in the days that followed to document just how little the rest of the league thinks of J.R. Smith.
Of course, this is all so stupid, which is what we wrote even during the heat of the NBA’s busy season. Baseball players working through terrible slumps on terrible, underachieving teams pull this sort of stuff all the time in the dugout, and nobody says a damn thing about it, much less bust out the $50,000 fine in response.
With that in place … don’t touch the damn shoes.
These aren’t baseball players. These are basketball players that are expected to box out and jump for the next rebound, or even box out and half-jump should the free throw attempt go in. Does the idea that the NBA decided that it needed to fine J.R. $50,000 just for pulling a silly prank for the second (and, as we found out, third that we know of) time seem ridiculous on the surface? Of course … but don’t mess with other players’ shoelaces. The odds aren’t great that these fabulous athletes could injure themselves in a resulting, shoelace-inspired accident – but the odds are still there. Don’t do it.
In much safer, but just as expensive, pursuits, Smith is chasing down his love of golf to an almost ridiculous level. Not only is he basically following around the PGA Tour as it darts from town to town over the summer, he’s staying behind the tour to play the courses after the pros leave town, in a pastime that must be costing him tens if not hundreds of thousands.
Bleacher Report: You've basically been simulating the life of a pro golfer this summer. What's that been like?
J.R. Smith: I was following the [PGA] Tour at one point starting in May, supporting Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Keegan Bradley, all good friends of mine. I went to the Wells Fargo Championship [in May in Charlotte, North Carolina], The Players Championship [in May in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida], the Quicken Loans National [in June in Bethesda, Maryland] and The Barclays two weeks ago [in Paramus, New Jersey].
I would watch [each tournament] from Thursday to Sunday and then play the course on Monday. I would say I've probably played 50 courses this summer. Around six a week.
Smith credits Moses Malone, of all people, for introducing him to the game; pointing out that his first ever golf shot was a pitch-perfect drive, only to be followed by days and weeks’ worth of golf-related heartbreak that any hacker can appreciate. It’s what kept him coming back.
Now he just needs to resist the temptation to keep untying the shoelaces of unknowing 6-10 guys that need to run and jump for a living.
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