Updated: Jul 20
Former NBA champion and current collegiate golfer J.R. Smith has signed with Excel Sports Management for NIL representation. Smith spent 16 years in the NBA and amassed nearly $90 million in salary. But after a long NBA career, Smith hung up his basketball shoes, picked up his golf bag, and went back to school.
In 2004, when Smith entered the NBA, he jumped directly from high school to the pros. So walking around a college campus is uncharted waters. At age 35, Smith enrolled at North Carolina A&T and joined the school’s Division I golf team. He’s documented his Happy Gilmore/Billy Madison-esque journey through his twitter account. Somewhere, 1996 Adam Sandler is smiling.
Despite not having top-level success or a legitimate shot of taking his golf game to the professional ranks, Smith immediately became the country’s most popular Division I golfer. Success on the course isn’t a prerequisite for success in the NIL free market. Are there better college golfers than Smith in the country? Sure. But Smith’s marketability transcends his scorecard. Smith’s agent Lance Young told ESPN, “There's significant NIL interest among golfing equipment and clothing manufacturers and video game companies”.
The NIL opportunities for Smith as a collegiate golfer are fascinating. His following fills a void within the golf community. He can reach audiences that no other golfer can.
Smith’s career as an NBA player turned him into a cult NBA fan favorite. He was famous for his on-court flare and shirtless championship celebrations while constantly battling rumors involving his love for New York City nightclubs. The transformation from once throwing a bowl of soup at an assistant coach to now playing the ultimate gentleman’s game deserves its own documentary – brands must be salivating.
So what type of deals NIL deals can J.R. Smith expect? If you believe the words from his agent, which I do, he will have plenty of suitors. The former NBA player brings a unique sense of style to the golf course that is unparalleled, and brands can look to take advantage.
Throughout his NBA career, Smith routinely laced up Nikes on the court. His on-court shoe choices consisted of LeBron James’ Solider 10, Kyrie Irving’s Kyrie 4, and Paul George’s PG2; all athletes signed to Nike, and all shoes showcasing the signature swoosh. Falling in line with his choices of the past, it’s a natural fit for J.R. Smith to become another face of Nike golf and join players such as Tiger Woods, Rory Mcllroy, and Brooks Koepka.
A quick examination of North Carolina A&T’s uniforms shows the school has partnered with Nike:
Another opportunity for Smith may arise in Nike’s subsidiary, Jordan. The brand synonymous with basketball has attempted to break onto the country club scene over recent years. Jordan currently sponsors one professional golfer, Harold Varner III, who recently just won his first PGA tour event. Reportedly, Jordan was particularly drawn to Varner because of his roots where he proudly represents his home state of North Carolina, the state where Michael Jordan went to college.
J.R. Smith’s college career is also unfolding in the Tar Heel state.
Golf course style has gone through a transformation. Recently, professional golfers have started to break away from the suburban middle-aged dad look that often-featured plaid sweater vests and clunky golf shoes. Instead, many global superstars bring streetwear to the golf course, wearing several high-profile Jordan and Nike shoes during their rounds.
When Brooks Koepka was asked about his choice to wear a Nike AirMax/Off White collaboration golf shoe during the Tour Championship he responded, plain and simply, “It’s fashion, bro”.
Perhaps Smith can be another golfer to push the limits of on-course attire for Nike, exciting sneakerheads while causing confusion amongst the traditional golf crowd. But Smith’s NIL opportunities don’t start and stop with sneaker companies.
Originally starting as a skateboard brand, Supreme has developed into a streetwear lifestyle empire that features creative designs that often rely heavily on hip hop and pop culture influences. The brand has partnered with companies such as Budweiser, Playboy, Louis Vuitton, and many others. This isn’t the brand you associate with golf. However, a few years ago Supreme released a collection in collaboration with Lacoste that started to resemble golf fashion.
J.R. Smith is no stranger to the brand. In fact, a quick scan of his tattoos will reveal he’s actually quite a big fan.
If Supreme is looking to expand their influence into golf, why look any further than the high-profile golfer that has the brand inked on his body. Smith has modeled for Supreme off the court in the past and even attempted to bring that relationship onto the court by sporting a Supreme shooting sleeve during an NBA game. He was swiftly scolded by the NBA for this wardrobe decision and refrained from any similar acts moving forward.
Smith made it clear he hasn’t been paid by Supreme, but feels a connection with the brand stating, “[Supreme] represents the streets, it represents that gritty, weird personality. And that’s what I represent as a person”.
It’s clear that J.R. Smith can fill a void in golf marketing that no other athlete can touch. Thanks to NIL, Smith as a college golfer can use his influence to grow the game. His effort could be part of a larger movement for the sport to modernize and diversify its audience. Unlike other college athletes, Smith may not need the financial incentives that come with NIL deals. But these deals can have a positive and lasting impact on the sport at large.
Smith has expressed a desire to bring golf into the lives of underrepresented minority groups. NIL grants him an opportunity.
Matt Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow in the Office of the General Counsel at Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN and find him on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-netti-ba5787a3/. You can find all his work at www.mattnetti.com
 Jacob Emert, Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith sued for $2.5 million over alleged nightclub incident, The Washington Post (last visited Feb. 1, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/03/26/cavaliers-j-r-smith-sued-for-2-5-million-over-alleged-nightclub-incident/.  J.R. Smith, Baller Shoes DB (last visited Feb. 1, 2022) https://ballershoesdb.com/players/jr-smith/.  Tyler Lauletta, Michael Jordan texted Harold Varner III with an offer to be just the second Jordan Brand golfer and had a deal 2 days later, Insider (last visited Feb. 1, 2022) https://www.insider.com/michael-jordan-signs-harold-varner-iii-jordan-brand-2021-6.  Brittany Romano, This Lacoste X Supreme collection might be the closest thing to a Supreme golf line yet, Golf Digest (last visited Feb. 1, 2022) https://www.golfdigest.com/story/this-lacoste-x-supreme-collection-might-be-the-closest-thing-to-a-supreme-golf-line-yet.  Cam Smith, NBA Tells J.R. Smith to Cover Up His Supreme Tattoo Or Else, GQ (last visited Feb. 1, 2022) https://www.gq.com/story/jr-smith-supreme-tattoo-nba.