Winning the NBA championship means a lot for LeBron James, the city of Cleveland and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It may mean a little bit more for Cavs’ shooting guard J.R. Smith. The celebration of Cleveland becoming the first sports team to bring back a major championship to the city for the first time in 52 years, have already gone down.
The parade for the players and their fans proved to be a smash hit. Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue picked up the phone after receiving a call from the congratulatory President Barack Obama. Lebron James officially added another impressive chapter to his sparkling NBA resume.
For Smith, though, with Cleveland snatching the NBA championship from the Golden State Warriors in seven games, this was perhaps a last call at basketball redemption. By being part of the Cavs’ title run, Cleveland’s historic comeback has lifted a burden off of Smith’s back. The fruits of his labor through 13 seasons has not been in vain.
That was illustrated in the emotional way Smith broke down after the Cavs’ 93-89, series-clinching win in Game 7 at Oracle Arena. Not only did Smith show a raw moment of personal and professional triumph during the immediate aftermath of the Game 7 win, he probably struck the sports tear-moment of 2016, when he lovingly talked about the gratitude he has for both his mother and father.
If you were not moved by Smith’s emotional appeal of appreciation for his parents, it’s probably a good bet your humanity might have vacated your soul.
“I mean, my parents, my family, that’s the biggest inspiration in my life,” Smith said. “I’ve been in a lot of dark spots in my life, and if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be able to get out of it. But they are who they are. They fought with me. They yelled at me, they screamed at me, they loved me, they hugged me, they cried with me, and they always stuck by my side no matter right or wrong. I know a lot of people don’t have a their parents in their life, their mother, their father, but I’ve got the best two you could ask for, I swear. There’s six of us, and they didn’t treat any of us different. They loved us the same. They treated us all the same, and I just wanted to be like them when I grow up. I mean, my dad is easily one of my biggest inspirations to play this game.
“To hear people talk bad about me, it hurts me because I know it hurts him, and that’s not who I am. And I know he raised better, and I know I want to do better. Just everything I do is for my parents and my family. I mean, I don’t really — the cars are nice, the houses are nice, but none of this matters without them. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t know where I would be, honestly. If it wasn’t for them, if it wasn’t for the structure and the backbone that I have, I wouldn’t be able to mess up and keep coming back and being able to sit in front of you as a world champion.”
Being an NBA champion is not something that a lot of people would even associate with J.R. Smith. What they chose to link Smith to was being some sort of social outcast. During his tenure with the Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, the New Orleans Hornets (Pelicans) and Toronto Raptors, Smith gained an unflattering reputation that was anything but positive to members of the media and to some of those respective teams.
“I understand he’s misunderstood, how everybody perceives him, so I’m able to relate to him,” James said in article that appeared in the New York Post in 2015. “I’m able to be a big brother to him and give him the tips on trying to be the best teammate he can be, the best father he can be, the best friend he can be.”
Smith’s last stand as an NBA player was probably coming to Cleveland after being traded by the Knicks during the 2014-15 season. That move has worked out to be a winner for the 2012-13 NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Smith became the Cavs’ all-time 3-point record-holder for a season in treys made (204). He has played in two NBA Finals. He stands today as a world champion. But it wasn’t his known offensive prowess that helped Cleveland come back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Warriors. It was his defense.
Smith’s in-your-face defense on Golden State’s sharpshooter Klay Thompson proved to be one of the key elements in the Cavs’ stunning upset of the Warriors. It is also an overlooked aspect of the series that the media in general has largely ignored.
With Smith doing the bulk of the defensive work, Thompson’s scoring punch throughout the series was sub-par. In Game 1, Thompson finished the contest with just 9 points on 4-12 shooting attempts from the floor. He was a tad bit better in Game 2 with 17 points after connecting on 6-of-13 shot attempts.
It got ugly for the other half of the “Splash Brothers,” as Thompson scored a grand total of 10 points on 4-of-13 shots he took from the field. That’s not a good look. In the Cavs’ Game 7 win, Smith and the rest of Cleveland’s defense made Thompson disappear with his 14 points in the postseason finale.
Thompson’s lone big scoring night of the series was the 37 points he scored in Game 5, which proved to be more of an abbreviation than the four games he couldn’t hit the 20-point plateau.
Perhaps no one outside of LeBron James could be more appreciative of the mercurial journey that Smith has traveled to be where he is today. Both men turned the ending of Game 7 into a waterfall stream of joy.
“Obviously I know what J.R.’s been through in his career. People counting him out and saying he’s this, he’s that, not understanding — you can’t have that. That’s not yours. That’s for Daddy. Just understand what J.R.’s been through and people just saying that there’s no way he can be a winner,” James said after Game 7. “When our GM came to us last year and said, hey, we’ve got a deal to get Timofey Mozgov and get Iman Shumpert, and the Knicks are going to throw in J.R., I was like, what? They’re going to throw in J.R. into the deal? And I was like, okay, I’ve got him. I got him. And J.R. turned himself into not only a huge boost to our team, but he turned himself into a two-way player, both sides of the floor. And I think those emotions came out of J.R. at the end of those games.
“Those emotions came out of me, just leading 14 guys and understanding, like I said, what our city’s been through over the last 50-plus years since Jim Brown. Then also people just counting me out. Throughout my 13-year career, I’ve done nothing but be true to the game, give everything I’ve got to the game, put my heart, my blood, sweat, tears into the game, and people still want to doubt what I’m capable of doing. So that was a little icing on the cake for myself to just let me know that everything I’ve done, it results in this.”