And a happy opening week of NFL Training Camp! That’s right, the Denver Broncos have both rookies and veterans reporting to training camp this Wednesday, July 17. Several other teams have rookies reporting this week, with most teams having vets report next week. The Cleveland Browns have both rookies and vets reporting next Wednesday, July 24. But yeah, with the Broncos playing the Atlanta Falcons in the Hall of Fame Game on August 1, they are having their players report to training camp this week. As in, tomorrow. Football is basically here, my friends!
Before we get carried away with football, though, we have some basketball news to cover this morning with the Cleveland Cavaliers officially waiving JR Smith yesterday. This ends one of the more interesting tenures in the history of the franchise.
A lot has been said and written about JR Smith over the years. A lot was said yesterday, and a lot will be said today. I know Cavs fans who fall on all sides of the spectrum when it comes to JR Smith. Anyone who knows JR Smith knows that’s kind of been par for the course1 for JR’s entire career. He’s had plenty of people in his corner, but he’s also had more than his fair share of detractors.
A sometimes volatile personality both on and off the court, JR’s legacy both in the NBA and with the Cavaliers will likely be somewhat complicated. When I heard that the Cavaliers were trading for JR Smith, I wasn’t thrilled initially. I felt like Smith was a distraction bordering on unprofessional. I remembered him mostly for his stunt of untying opponents’ shoes during free throws. There were rumors of his off-court antics, the partying, the poor performances during Sunday afternoon games after late Saturday night parties.
And like any irresponsible fan, I just took everything at face value. Little did I know that the more I got to know JR Smith, the more I would understand the context for many things he does and says. And more importantly, little did I know he would end up one of my absolute favorite Cavaliers ever.
It bums me out that JR Smith will probably mostly be remembered as a punchline. Forever meme’d by an incredulous LeBron James, most people across the country will have that image seared into their brains as what JR Smith was, an aloof player who made a critical mental error that cost his team the game in the NBA Finals.
— ESPN (@espn) July 19, 2018
Of course, the truth couldn’t be farther from that impression. Before his infamous mistake, Jr Smith was a shirtless hero to Cleveland, a city that embraced him and made him one of their own. He was a player who won fans over with his impassioned and emotional response to winning the title on Father’s Day.
He was a player who couldn’t contain his emotions as the Cavaliers raised their banner into the rafters. And before he became a meme, the NBA screwed over the Cavaliers with a ridiculous overturn on a Kevin Durant charge drawn by LeBron James. Before JR Smith’s lowest moment on the court, George Hill missed the free throw that would have put the Cavaliers in the lead. JR Smith bears the brunt of that loss publicly, but in reality, that loss needs to be shared among so many people.
But you know what? I don’t care about any of that, anyway. Who cares what so many people think about JR Smith? Who cares about the jokes? JR Smith is an NBA Champion, and he played important roles in the Cavaliers getting there. I won’t remember JR forgetting the score in 2018. What I will remember is 2016. Game 7. The Cavaliers down 49-42, and according to subsequent reports, not in a great place mentally in the locker room at halftime. Draymond Green was seemingly hitting everything and despite the Cavaliers keeping Steph Curry contained, they were still losing by 7.
It was in that context that JR came out in the third quarter and hit a quick jumper to settle the team down. Then he would knock down back-to-back threes on consecutive possessions. After his second three, JR would get a steal that eventually led to a Kyrie Irving layup to tie the game. Just like that, the entire feel of that game was changed. JR would finish Game 7 with 12 points. He was the only player on the Cavs to score double digits in that game besides LeBron and Kyrie. Those two three-pointers would be his only makes from three in Game 7, but they were such important shots at such a crucial time in the game. JR may not have won Game 7, but in many ways, he saved it. I’m not sure the Cavs win that game if JR doesn’t steady the ship and get them believing in themselves again.
And of course, beyond that, the thing we in Cleveland will remember him for the most is the shirtless celebrations all summer long in 2016. When Ty Lue got his congratulatory call from President Barack Obama, the President even referenced Smith’s shirtless celebrating. That summer of 2016 was the most fun time imaginable for Cavs fans, and JR Smith will forever be the iconic image of those celebrations.
JR will always be a legend in Cleveland pic.twitter.com/nVSsc9ykwG
— Joe Gilbert (@JoeGilbertWFNY) July 15, 2019
Sure, I wish his 2018 mistake wouldn’t have happened. And yeah, I wish his time in Cleveland would have ended with a little more grace. But all of that volatility is part of the JR Smith experience, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for any other experience. The Cavs might have won a championship had they never acquired JR, but I promise you the team wouldn’t have been as fun without him. Nothing can ever take away those Cavs teams from our hearts and our minds. A banner will forever hang in Cleveland as a testament to what that team accomplished, but that banner alone will never tell the full story of the joy of those 2015-2018 Cavs teams, and JR Smith was as big a part of that story as everyone else.
There’s been some talk recently from fans saying the Cavs should retire the jersey of all the starters from that 2016 title team. That could happen, but I kind of doubt it. A statue of some sort dedicated to that team could always happen as well. But again, it’s hard to say. But sometimes the best stories are the ones that live on in our hearts and through our passing it down through the generations. Thanks to the internet’s ability to preserve content, future generations will forever be able to search for and fin images and videos of JR Smith celebrating.
It’s been a while now since JR played a game in a Cleveland uniform. So his release yesterday was not a surprise. We knew it was coming. The loss of JR from this team isn’t about wins and losses, it’s not about stats, it’s not about success or failure. It’s more about the symbolism of what JR meant to Cavs fans and how his legacy will persevere into the future.
So, with a heavy heart, I offer the fondest of farewells to JR Smith and raise a toast to his legacy in Cleveland. Thank you, JR. For everything. For the highs and the lows. Here’s to an icon that none of us who lived through that Championship run will ever forget. Thank you, JR!