Retired NBA player and college freshman J.R. Smith is joining the NIL world. The two-time NBA champion and Sixth Man of the Year Award recipient has hired Excel Sports to represent him in NIL deals, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Friday.
Smith, 36, plays on the men’s golf team at North Carolina A&T, earning a 4.0 GPA in his fall semester. As a pro basketball player—he last played in the NBA in 2020—Smith had most recently used Rich Paul and his agency Klutch Sports.
Smith has shown a knack for timing when it comes to professional eligibility in sports.
In 2004, Smith followed in the footsteps of Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James by skipping college for the NBA. The New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) drafted him with the 18th pick. A year later, the NBA and NBPA collectively bargained a more restrictive eligibility rule that, beginning with the 2006 draft, required American players to be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school.
Smith went on to play 16 productive seasons in the NBA, during which he earned $90.3 million in salary and played with James on both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Smith also earned endorsement income—and, in the process, tested the limits of allowable tattoos. As part of a deal, Smith tattooed Supreme’s corporate logo on his leg. The ink violated a CBA provision prohibiting players from “displaying any commercial, promotional, or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification, including but not limited to on his body, in his hair, or otherwise.” Smith would cover the tattoo to avoid NBA fines.
Fast forward to 2021. In July, the NCAA lifted its longstanding opposition to college athletes capitalizing on their right of publicity. Propelled by state NIL statutes, the NCAA allowed college athletes to take advantage of their NIL without losing their eligibility. That summer Smith began his college sports career.
Smith’s professional basketball career didn’t render him ineligible to play a different college sport. Article 12 of the NCAA’s bylaws permit a professional athlete in one sport to represent a college in another sport. Over the years, such athletes as Deion Sanders (New York Yankees minor league outfielder and FSU cornerback), Danny Ainge (Toronto Blue Jays infielder and BYU guard) and Mo’ne Davis (endorsements from playing baseball and Hampton softball pitcher) have earned income as pros in one sport while (or before) playing a different college sport.
Smith should graduate from college before he turns 40. He’ll be much older than most of his classmates, though much younger than others who have pursued higher ed later in life. In 2011, 99-year-old Leo Plass graduated from Eastern Oregon University, becoming the oldest person to earn a college degree.