This is what is known as One-Hundred Percent Week here at SLAM, which means we’re finishing up our next issue (SLAM 142) and by Friday of this week, today, one-hundred percent of the magazine is supposed to be completed and to the printer. Thing is, it never is, and it isn’t today, and so we always end up working like crazy up through the middle of next week to get everything done and out the door. But that doesn’t make this week any less hectic or stressful. I love my job here at SLAM, and most of the time I love coming to work. But during One Hundred Percent Week, walking up Broadway and toward the office in the morning is like walking toward some sort of sinister destiny.
All of this made the way Ben and I spent yesterday all the sweeter: On the golf course.
For a couple of years now, Ben and I have been talking about wanting to do a story about an NBA player with golf as the setting. I don’t know about you guys, but Ben and I both love to play golf, and I know a lot of NBA players get out on the links as well. Being on a golf course is such a relaxing, peaceful experience, and since it takes about 4 hours (give or take an hour) to play a round of golf, playing golf while writing a feature on someone would provide plenty of time to interview and observe a player. A few weeks ago we got something in the email about JR Smith’s annual Charity Golf Tournament, and we asked if we could be involved. So we sent over a couple of boxes of magazines to give away to the participants, and they invited Ben and I to come out and play.
And so around noon yesterday, Ben and I pulled up at the Woodlake Country Club in Lakewood, NJ, where we were set to tee off in the JR Smith Youth Foundation’s Fourth Annual Golf Classic. It was a gorgeous day — temperature around the high 70s, not a cloud in the sky — and the clubhouse was buzzing with activity, as close to 70 golfers were there to take part. Hot 97 had a tent set up outside playing music, and back behind the clubhouse, golfers were lined up to sign in and get their carts.
JR’s mother, Ida, was running the welcome station, which was staffed by a sizeable group of volunteers, and JR’s dad, Earl, was making the rounds, shaking hands, making sure everything was set up and ready to tee off. JR was also there greeting people, rocking a white JR Smith Youth Foundation polo shirt, a pair of Nike golf shorts, topped off with a Louisville fitted. (JR’s younger brother Chris is a guard for the Cardinals.)
Soon after we arrived, I found myself talking to a young man named Brad Hennefer. Brad, a native of Cherry Hill, NJ, was in the news a couple of years ago as the only high school athlete in the country with Down syndrome to letter in two sports (basketball and golf). Brad had come out to play in the golf tournament, and Earl Smith had paired him up with JR. Brad told me that JR was actually the second member of the Denver Nuggets he’d met, as he’d actually met Carmelo Anthony previously. I asked him which guy was his favorite Nuggets player, and Brad diplomatically replied, “I like both of them.”
We teed off around 1:00 PM. Because it was a shotgun start, JR’s group was assigned to begin on the 15th hole. Ben and I decided to just squeeze in behind JR’s group, so we could watch them play all day. They were playing best ball format, and from what I could tell, Brad was outdriving everyone off the tee. Sometimes tall guys look awkward when golfing, but JR looked really smooth, both on the tee and from the fairway. Later, I asked him JR if he’d ever taken a lesson. No, he said, but he admitted that the watches The Golf Channel obsessively and picks up tips there.
“I played OK today,” he would say later, before reverting to an NBA cliché: “I had a lot of help from my teammates — my team was me, Brad and his father. Brad was really good, dead center every time.”
I hadn’t played golf in about a year, so I was spraying errant drives all over the course. I didn’t watch JR much, since I spent most of my time searching in the thick grass for my previous shots.
When we finally rolled up to the clubhouse at the end of the round, JR and I sat down to talk for a feature in the upcoming issue of SLAM. Earlier in the day, news had broken about JR being involved in an investigation over an alleged altercation in a pick-up game out in Denver. I asked JR for a comment about it, but JR said he wasn’t allowed to speak on it.
“People are going to talk regardless,” JR said. “I just try not to focus on the negative stuff as much as I can and stay focused on the positive stuff, stuff like we were able to do here today.”
“Really, today is a great chance for me to give back, and seeing all my family and my friends here, it gives me a chance to just appreciate everything we’ve gone through to get here.”
Regarding what they were able to do yesterday, Earl Smith and I talked for a while about the JR Smith Youth Foundation.
“I spent today day riding around and just watching all the kids have fun, and that’s why I do it. I do it for them — that’s the pleasure I get out of it. That and giving the proceeds to kids who really need it. Last year we were able to give out a couple of scholarships. We bought a food card for a young lady at Penn State who didn’t have the money to be on a meal plan. We help cheerleaders, kids playing Pop Warner football, things like that.”
I’m just giving you guys a taste of what we talked about, because I actually talked for a while with both JR and Earl, about all kinds of stuff, for a feature that will run in SLAM 143, our season preview issue (which will drop in October). Anyway, a big SLAM thanks to JR and the entire Smith family for letting us be a part of yesterday.