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JR Smith: From NBA Champ to NIL Trail-blazer

Mid-major Division I golfers don’t often sign NIL deals with agencies like Excel Sports. They’re also not often 36-year-old NBA champions.

We all love seeing college athletes — who until last July were forbidden from profiting off their name, image, and likeness rights — finally able to make some money while doing so much to line the pockets of coaches, administrators, and the NCAA itself.

And in the spirit of helping the little guy out, Excel Sports has signed North Carolina A&T golfer Earl Smith III to a deal for NIL representation, as reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. You might know him by his more commonly used name, JR Smith.

Smith is a second-semester freshman for the Aggies and competed for the team this fall. Oh, and he’s a two-time NBA champion who played in the league for 16 years.

As Woj notes, it’s the highest-profile NIL deal from a former pro athlete to date, and a breakthrough for HBCU athletics besides. He also reports that there’s interest in locking in Smith’s endorsement for everything from golfing equipment and clothing manufacturers to video game companies.

From Smith’s perspective, not only would he be able to make money in a second sport, but his endorsements would help get the North Carolina A&T name out there as a national brand — something he’s previously indicated is important to him.

JR Smith at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, 2020 (Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

This is also a personal journey for the guy they call JR Swish. Smith did not attend college the first time around, opting to jump to the NBA straight out of high school. He’s said he wanted the full college experience — from the course to the classroom. To his credit, Smith earned a 4.0 GPA this fall.

So, yes, he’s taking this seriously.

Smith made about $90 million in NBA salary over his career and is now 36 years old. No, he’s not your typical college athlete — but in 2022, going to class, playing your sport, and signing name, image, and likeness deals gets you about as close as possible.

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About The Author
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg
Russell Steinberg is an editor and writer at Boardroom. He came to the brand in 2021 with a decade of experience in sports journalism, primarily covering college basketball at SB Nation as a writer, reporter, and blog manager. In a previous life, he worked as a social media strategist and copywriter, handling accounts ranging from sports retail to luxury hotels and financial technology. Though he has mastered the subtweet, he kindly requests you @ him next time.