Long before J.R. Smith was putting in work on the basketball court, he was sweating through long days in the construction business—starting at around five years old. Working with his father, Earl, a mason contractor, Smith assisted on everything from senior citizen homes to Best Buy and Sports Authority locations—up until he was around 17 years old.
Now, starting with a vision that father and son had together years ago, Smith will be opening his own Team Swish lifestyle store, which is slated for the end of the month. The store, which Earl himself began building five years ago, features apparel, footwear and accessories, one of which is Smith’s upcoming signature backpack with Sprayground.
“The store is very special,” Earl told the NBPA. “It’s a long time coming. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been working on this project here. And then with J.R. winning a championship, everything came full circle.”
It’s the “Summer of Swish.” After winning his first championship with the Cavaliers and going viral with his no-shirt persona, not only is he launching business in lifestyle. He’ll also be adding a major personal accomplishment on Monday: getting married in his home state of New Jersey.
Overall, he’s made big changes in his life, cutting back on excess and focusing more on being a humble father. And looking ahead, he’s working on and has many ideas for different events he’d like to host—from basketball to his second favorite sport to play, golf.
In an exclusive interview with the NBPA recently at his house in Millstone Township, N.J., Smith shared a candid perspective on his new mindset and opportunities off the court. His conversation with the NBPA is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
Ever since I got back with my wife, Jewel, last year and proposed to her in August, things started going uphill slowly but surely.
Before I was doing so much thinking; now it’s just reacting. So it’s just taking stuff as things come and realizing what’s more important between her and my girls, Demi and Peyton, as opposed to everything else.
A lot has changed for me mentally and materially. I used to in the summertime spend so much money doing a lot of fun stuff. Now, I’m actually consciously trying to save, so we can live how we want to live after basketball. I’ve even sold a few things. More than anything, being in that dad role is more important now. I know I have to leave something for these girls. I don’t want to leave them with bills or anything.
I want to leave with something that they can do what they want to do with it. After my career is over with, and they have kids, I think more than anything it’s just building a foundation for the family.
Family is everything to me. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends. All I had was my family. So for me, this is my family. For me, this is normal. To other people, they’ve got a lot of outside people coming in. But for me, it’s the same people from day one for me—my family, my brothers, my sisters, my kids, my parents, my cousins. That’s about it. Everybody else I’ve generally met through basketball, so it’s not really the same.
When you go from growing up to not having a lot of friends to everybody wants to be your friend because of what you do, it almost takes away from having friends. So I just try to stay in my own lane more than anything.
Now, the only thing out of the ordinary is more people knowing who I am everywhere I go now. I went to drive to Maryland recently with my wife and my brother-in-law. And we made a stop to get gas and get coffee, and people were going crazy. Another day, I walked into a place and by the time I walked inside and walked outside, there were 20 people off of one social media picture sitting in the parking lot. I wasn’t there 20 minutes.
I think just having everybody know who you are is more of a challenge. More than anything about it is just knowing people are watching. I know who I am, so it’s watching things I say, what I do. Even if I’m in line at one of the rest stops or something, it’s just being on my Ps and Qs at all times more than anything.
Summer of Swish
I didn’t think me not wearing a T-shirt was going to be as big as it was, but it got like that overnight. It was crazy. Social media took over the world. The second you do something, it’s over with.
So I keep pushing it with selling the shirts. It’s almost like a trademark now, with the way people see it now, especially since President Obama said something about it. It really went nuts. Honestly, since he said it, I started getting up with no shirt on.
Whatever I do, whatever I say seems to be a big deal to a lot of people for whatever reason. I wish I could explain it. But ever since I was little, I’ve always thought outside the box, whether it was putting tape on my facemask at high school football practice or wearing wristbands on my ankles. I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff.
So it’s crazy just to see how much of an impact I am to everybody else. It’s kind of eerie almost that you can really affect that many people. It’s cool to affect five, 10 people, but when you affect thousands and you have millions of followers, it’s almost like watch what you do and watch what you say. It takes away from being you.
While I had been working on it for a while, it was just the matter of when was the right time. So it just so happens now it is, with the championship, to open my own sneaker store in my hometown of Millstone Township, N.J.
It’s incredible what my dad did with the store. He even built parts of my house. Still to this day I know how to do all that stuff that he taught me—houses, patios, everything. And it was great because it was almost like learning a trade. I remember days like this when it gets hotter wearing full-length heavy pants, carrying concrete blocks, just no shade, sun on you 24/7 until you go home. And it’s, like, “I don’t want to live like this. This is hard living.” But it helped me gain strength for basketball.
Ever since I was a kid, I always dreamed of having my own sneaker store. When I was growing up, this was when Michael Jordan was in the prime of everything. So a fresh pair of kicks was always everything. No matter what else you had on, if you had a fresh pair of sneakers on, you were always the freshest guy in school—no matter what your pants looked like, no matter what your shirt looked like, hat, whatever. It was always about the shoes, so I got attached extremely early.
If I were to do my own shoe, it’d definitely be like a lifestyle shoe. I also really want to do a golf line. I want to create my own golf shoes. I play all the time.
Lifestyle-related, I have my new Sprayground backpack coming out in September. I played a big part in designing it. I’m a huge video game guy, so I told them I want to do something with Grand Theft Auto. Me and my friends play it for hours and hours, between that and 2K. So they kind of mixed that up on the backpack, and put my tattoos on another one. That was my brother’s idea.
Around back to school, I’m going to donate around 400 of the backpacks to a local New York/New Jersey organization for kids to have. The backpack design has a lot to do with being different, and I think that sends a strong message to the kids. No matter who you are, just be yourself. Don’t be afraid to be you. That should be good enough.
Also coming up, I’m putting on my 10th annual golf classic next week at Eagle Ridge Golf Club in Lakewood, N.J. It benefits my youth foundation that helps underserved children in their health, personal development, education and enjoyment of life.
I also want to host a celebrity golf weekend where I bring athletes and Hollywood guys to my hometown to show them where I’m from. But more than anything, it’s to help the youth because when they see us, they just get so engaged and inspired.
That’s not all. I have the idea of organizing a mini golf tour for NBA players. A lot of us play golf. I’ve been trying to get the guys to do one. We’d do like three cities, go to the three best golf courses and have our own little mini tour. Have fans come out and watch.
Realistically, it can be one day out of the week at a golf course, and let’s say 10 guys would play. It’s not a 50-man field like the PGA Tour. It would be a select group, two at at time. Then all the money would be donated to each other’s charities. And the players could be paired with a celebrity. Justin Timberlake plays, Samuel Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, all these Hollywood guys. That’s all they talk to me about when they see me—golf, golf, golf.
Looking ahead, I want to take over my community center. That’s my new goal. I want to start my own little league program for basketball, football, baseball, soccer, golf, field hockey—whatever kids are into, whatever kids want to do.
I just want to get kids out of the house doing something, especially for the summertime. There are days like this when it gets hotter where kids are just sitting in the house playing video games. Don’t get me wrong, I was one of those kids that did that at one point in time, but luckily I caught that curve late. But there’s too much sitting around now. Let’s go play kickball. Let’s go do something. Let’s stay active.
I also want to help with AAU basketball. It’s freelance in the structure so you get to see kids’ raw talent and ability, but there’s no structure to it. For AAU, there needs to be more teaching kids how to play. You’ve got kids in high school who really don’t even know what a pick-and-roll is. You need to teach the fundamentals of the game of basketball—give-and-go, pick-and-roll. That’s how I grew up playing. When I was three years old, I was doing give-and-gos, pick-and-rolls with my dad and my brothers.
Overall, I’ve gotten nonstop love since I’ve been back home, and I’m just trying to take advantage of it all. It’s crazy. More people are calling me now wanting to market me. And I’ve had the opportunity to turn them down. I don’t want to do something just to do it. If I do something, I want to have my own impact on it.