Road to Redemption
JR Smith dedicates February to giving back.
by Alexandra Rush
With his near 15 ppg average for a Denver Nuggets team riding high on its third-place standing in the Western Conference, guard JR Smith is beginning to feel comfortable enough to deal with issues bigger than basketball.
That’s why he is launching “28 Day Giveback,” a community outreach program consisting of weekly contests throughout the month of February. Denver-area youths have the chance to win shoes, clothes and electronics, and participate in special events featuring Smith.
“I’ve been wanting to do stuff with kids and schools for so long,” Smith said. “But the past few years I’ve only been focusing on the [basketball] season, but I’ve realized social work is more important. And basketball is pretty much second nature to me now.”
Smith said his initiative is partially inspired by his effort to reform his actions and his image after serving 24 days in jail this past summer and being suspended seven games early this season due to a 2007 DUI-related car accident. He wants to be a role model for kids, engaging with them to promote education and clean-living.
“I think the community may get the wrong impression of me because of my tattoos and the fact that I didn’t go to college,” Smith, who entered the NBA draft straight from high school in 2004, said. “But I value education, it’s not a joke. It’s very serious and kids need to go to school to succeed.”
Smith will kick off the “28 Day Giveback” with a February 2 visit to the Denver Street School, a Christian alternative secondary school serving troubled and at-risk youth. Smith will speak to students about achieving their academic and professional goals.
“Growing up, I had great guidance, but I didn’t make the best decisions,” Smith said. “And I always looked up to pro athletes growing up, but I didn’t see them do as much outreach as they do now.”
Smith said he wants to be a positive role model both on and off the court, and he admires the strong philanthropic projects of athletes such as Alonzo Mourning, who founded a non profit organization that raises money for educational programs and youth centers. Smith said he recently donated money to Alonzo Mourning Charities’ Athletes Relief Fund for Haiti.
Smith encourages educational development in young people, but he has yet to pursue academics past high school. However, he said he “definitely wants” to take college classes, but has not decided on a major.
But with his basketball career hotter than ever (Smith hit a clutch three-pointer in the Nuggets overtime victory against the Golden State Warriors January 20), he feels he can afford to spread himself a bit thinner and explore his education options.