Life came at J.R. Smith fast after he won his second NBA championship with LeBron James during the COVID-19 pandemic season.
Before he signed with the Lakers in the middle of the 2019-20 campaign, the veteran guard hadn’t played an NBA game since November 2018 with the Cavaliers.
Now, his second hiatus away from the court felt different.
When the phone wasn’t ringing after winning his second ring, Smith told The Post he knew he needed to move forward — but not move on entirely.
“That’s what I feel like more than anything — it was hard for me to grasp that because I felt like I was moving on from the game,” he said in an interview while discussing his first big production project, “Redefined.”
The four-part docuseries, produced by James and Maverick Carter under their Uninterrupted brand will premiere April 4 on Amazon Prime.
“I don’t think you ever move on from the game,” said Smith, who also won a ring in Cleveland. “I think the game just continuously grows with you, you continuously find out new parts of the game, and see new things in the game.
“You find out where you can make an impact on the game, whether it be, not just playing, but by scouting, coaching… consulting situations, workouts, trainers. There’s so many different elements of the game where you can really make an impact.
“And for me, I found a passion doing small individual workouts with high school kids and stuff like that, and I still feel that gratification that I got with hooping.”
Before Smith, 37, discovered solace in teaching the game, he was self sabotaging and feeling sorry for himself over the thought his only career was potentially over.
“It’s what I call idling,” Smith said. “I was working out still, I didn’t have a direction.”
“I was gaming when streaming was heavy [after the bubble season] and obviously playing golf, working out — trying to do little appearances here and there, just to keep my name out there.
“And then it was just like. ‘What am I doing? I gotta figure this out. Like this can’t be life after basketball. This is it. Am I going to be doing this for the rest of my life?’
“When I really broke it down to how much I was just self-sabotaging and feeling sorry for myself, so many different things. You have to get back on your horse some type of way. And for me, it started off slow for a year and then little, before I know it, one step in front of the other, it just started taking its way.”
“Redefined” follows Smith’s journey from being drafted to the NBA straight out of high school at age 19, including the road to two NBA championships — and his search of redefining his life and career as a college student at North Carolina A&T.
Smith is also interested in a future in film production — similar to the role James has with Uninterrupted.
He’s already impressed general manager Jimmy Spencer, who called Smith “the ultimate storyteller.”
“J.R. Smith is perhaps the greatest More Than an Athlete story of recent memory,” Spencer told The Post. “As authentic as they come, J.R. proved the ultimate storytelling partner for Uninterrupted, a platform dedicated to empowering athletes and telling their stories purely.”
“Redefining” also highlights Smith’s infamous blunder during Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals between the Cavaliers and the Warriors — something Smith said he had to “unfortunately acknowledge.”
It was the first time in which Smith opened up about his learn disabilities, dyslexia and ADHD.
In 16 NBA seasons, Smith garnered a reputation for his shooting prowess and outspoken attitude.
He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2013, and won his first championship with the Cavaliers alongside James in the 2015-16 season.
Smith is currently pursuing a Liberal Arts degree at North Carolina A&T, where he is a member of the men’s golf team.
Smith is on track to graduate from A&T, where he earned a 4.0 grade-point average and the Aggies’ Academic Athlete of the Year in his first year.
Although his days now include studying and school work, followed by his golf commitments and other ventures, Smith doesn’t seem finished with his NBA career.
The 37-year-old has not yet signed official documents stating he is retired from the NBA.
While Smith — a Freehold, N.J. native — was reminiscing about his Knicks days, he said, “I’m around if they need me” when asked about helping with the current team’s playoff push.
“I got a lot of great people at the Knicks organization,” Smith said.
Game 3 of that Finals between the Lakers and Heat on October 4, 2020 was the last time Smith played in an NBA game.
Smith is staying ready if called upon for a return.
His workouts include draining tough shots during on-court sessions with former Knicks trainer Chris Brickley — more recently in New York, where he lit up the court at Lifetime Fitness.
The pair have remained close since before Smith recommended Brickley for the job as an entry-level train with New York in 2013.
“I don’t know about that,” he said laughing when pressed about a potential NBA return. “I’m working towards my degree right now.
“Again, I ain’t signed nothing, so if they come, I’m open to play — but for my right now, it’s working on my degree and trying to get better acclimated with myself and be more self aware of what I got going on so I can be the best version of me.”
That “they” was a reference to all 30 teams — not just the Knicks.
Smith’s time in New York was a different NBA experience than he had with New Orleans and Denver, where he spent five seasons.
He previously told The New York Times that the NBA required him to go to therapy when he played for the Knicks and that he hated it — adding that he went on and off for two years.
“At the time, I was in a drug rehab program for marijuana,” Smith said when asked why he was “required” to attend therapy. “And that was part of the requirement, to go to therapy.
“And it was like ‘man, I got to do all this because I was smoking weed. And it was almost like treating it like it was like crack cocaine… I’m like ‘you’re making it seem like… I’m on meth or some s-t bro.
“So, I’m going to therapy with all these people and around all these different people, and it’s such a weird environment and experience for therapy. And it really wasn’t the best experience for me because it’s a different experience for a black man to go to therapy. And for this to be my first experience, it was like, is it that serious-type situation?”
“At the time I didn’t know how valuable therapy really is,” Smith said, adding that he currently attends therapy and is and advocate for it.
Smith said it wasn’t until he arrived in New York in February 2012 that he learned how to play like a star.
“I mean, to play, just to perform at the Garden every night — it was crazy because… Knick fans haven’t won a championship in forever. But every year, especially when they have the opportunity to just be good or decent, it is the expectations to win a championship.
“… And it was hard because they never broke down [and celebrated] milestones. Obviously it’s hard to play with the New York media, but when you’re from Jersey and you from like that Tri-State area and like this is where people got Knicks fans at home, Nets fans at the crib, Yankee fans — that’s a sports trifecta in the area is like no other.
“That aspect is a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on the players, a lot of pressure on my family. My mom still feels it and I haven’t played for the Knicks in almost 10 years.”
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