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How JR Smith is Flipping the Script in New Amazon Prime Docuseries

Last Updated: July 1, 2023
Redefined — set to premiere on Tuesday on Amazon Prime Video — follows JR Smith throughout his education and golf journey at North Carolina AT&T.

JR Smith‘s educational insecurities began when he was a child growing up in suburban New Jersey.

He was ADHD and dyslexic, having great difficulty reading out loud in front of the class at school. That trauma carried over into his NBA career, where he won two championships and a Sixth Man of the Year award across 16 seasons with the New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers after entering the league straight out of high school.

Smith would attend NBA team meetings and not know what things written out on papers or diagrams meant. Known as one of the league’s proud, brash bad boys, he often felt too insecure to ask teammates or coaches for help.

It made Smith’s 2021-2022 Academic Athlete of the Year award at North Carolina A&T, where he enrolled in 2021 to play golf and obtain a college education, that much more rewarding.

“Ever since I was a kid, I was so intimidated and I thought I wasn’t like everybody else. Before, it was overwhelming in a sense, not feeling like I was on everybody’s level or capable of doing certain things. That insecurity for me over 35, 36 years built up and never went away, and still hasn’t gone away,” Smith told Boardroom late last month over Zoom. “So then to actually put the work and time in and get that award for my academics, it’s hard to describe. I think it’s all worth it.”

Smith’s four-part docuseries on Amazon Prime Video Redefined produced by LeBron James and Uninterrupted premieres Tuesday, providing new insight into the 37-year-old while shining a light on HBCUs like A&T that normally get left behind. The title name spoke to Smith because he never thought his “bad boy” image was a representation of who he was and he doesn’t want to be part of his reputation moving forward. He’s hopeful the series will show audiences who he is as a man and father.

Admittedly, Smith did things in the NBA that added fuel to the fire for his negative reputation and perception. But he felt he was never able to adequately tell his side of the story, with fans only hearing the perspectives of the media, teams, coaches, and team general managers.

“We’re human too. We have feelings, we have emotions,” Smith said. “Just because we’re ‘superhuman’ at this one particular thing doesn’t mean we’re exempt from everything else that life brings to you.”

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For so long, Smith only defined himself as a basketball player and not as a man or a father. But what started to change that and led him to attend college began during a golf trip with Basketball Hall of Famer Ray Allen. He saw Allen constantly going back and forth between the course and his hotel room and grabbing his computer and wondered what was up. The legendary shooter said he was researching a paper for his Master’s degree.

“I’m like ‘what do you need your master’s for? What are you trying to do?’” Smith wondered. “And he laid into me in such a positive way.”

Allen said he always tries to challenge himself and improve in all aspects of life, whether it’s golf, reading, or raising his kids.

“I sat there and looked at myself. I had so much talent that I was wasting, almost being idle-minded with so many things I had to give to the world,” Smith, who was just sitting at home and expecting a call to get back into the NBA, said. “Whether it was being depressed or not feeling like I was living up to that, once I stopped my pity party and really started thinking about how I could better myself, it gave me a feeling that I needed to be doing something more.”

Smith’s biggest adjustment to school was physically sitting at a desk for six or seven hours a day, describing himself after a long day of classes as feeling like his mind worked out four times that day, completely drained. But once he got into a rhythm, he always felt he had so much to say in English and Liberal Studies classes that he felt acclimated to college life, aside from science and trigonometry classes.

Going to an HBCU with so much talent yet falling so short of the resources and attention of a larger school compelled Smith to attend North Carolina A&T where he could bring attention in his own way as a student-athlete and help put the school on the map, highlighting everything the university has to offer.

“HBCUs have made a mark within our company, one that stands behind not only the tradition but the power of the institutions,” Jimmy Spencer, Uninterrupted’s senior vice president and general manager, said. “J.R. was outwardly defined by purely being an NBA star but what we see is a man chasing education and a new passion. Our team loved just how authentic J.R. was during the whole process. He’s an excellent collaborator and I hope to keep partnering with him in the future in various ways.”

At college, Smith is also redefining himself as an athlete, dedicating himself to a game in golf he described as the exact opposite of basketball mentally, physically, and spiritually. Smith described his love for golf as way deeper now that he knows what it’s like to work hard and make it his main athletic pursuit.

“Before, I used to play just because I loved it,” he said. “But now that I understand the practice and preparation and how to do it and what I need to do to get better, the game is more challenging to an extent. I love it even more now because now I really understand how to play it as a pro, or at least some of their thought processes.”

Whether it’s the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, or just playing for a long time, Smith said he wants to take golf as far as it can go, listing Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka as some of his favorite players. As for Redefined, Smith said he wants people who watch the series to believe in the ability to overcome fear and accomplish what you think you cannot.

“One of the biggest reasons I wanted to do it is because you can really accomplish feats you didn’t think you would obtain,” Smith said. “And that starts with tackling the smallest thing, and for me, that was my education.”

Despite not believing in himself, Smith was always more than a basketball player and more than a thinly-veiled stereotype. Redefined chronicles his journey from the largest arenas to the smallest classrooms in proving to himself that his academic abilities were in him all along.

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