I love JR Smith.
Possibly too much. Okay, no, entirely too much.
I know this because he drives me so morbidly insane that it borders on outright lunacy. Yet, once he drills a catch-and-shoot from the nether regions of 30 Feet and Beyond or a patented step-back J over the outstretched arm of his defender or an acrobatic layup so impossible made all the more amazing by the swerving dance he employed to get it off in the first place, that lunacy quickly evaporates into the freshest breeze of air this Knicks fan has ever felt.
Never since the days of my favorite Knick Mr. John Levell Starks have I experienced such momentous highs and debilitating lows as I have with one Earl Joseph Smith the Third.
Therein lies the ever-maddening essence of JR Smith. That unknown. That “who are we going to get today? Good JR or bad JR?” That longing for something amazing to happen but truly not knowing if he might punch a cameraman after clotheslining Lance Stephenson. That looming feeling you get as you pray for him to focus, only to see him try to get some run in the kids’ pickup game during halftime. That face-palm you hit yourself with upon seeing him tweet a picture of Tahiry’s you-know-what while dead-smack in the middle of what turned into a Knicks 6-game losing streak.
“Does he take the game seriously? Does he care? Has he ever cared? Why does he not care? Please make him care. Someone. Anyone.”
While the comparisons to John Starks certainly hold weight on the court – the 3-point heaves, the aerial displays, the passing up of good shots for worse ones – I can’t agree that they’re anything similar off of it, unless Starks did host a 2 AM bike ride through the city and I just missed it.
By many, if not all, accounts, Starks was a warrior who clawed his way to his eventual apex of NBA stardom. Unheralded. Under-appreciated. Under-utilized. We can all agree that JR Smith is none of these words. Instead, he’s been highly-touted for his abilities for quite some time. And yet, here we are, comparing a former 18th overall draft pick to someone who wasn’t even drafted after bagging groceries while hooping in junior college.
When Starks tossed up a 30-foot bomb, it felt like he genuinely wanted to prove to you that he could drain it. When JR flings one up, it feels like he’s just doing it for fun. For the crowd. For the cheers. For that lively mob of booty models and aspiring musicians he’ll see at Apt 78 later. And again, that’s what flares you up so vigorously about him. That’s what makes you smack yourself with the liquor bottle you hold nearby during every Knicks telecast just in case he turns it into one of those games. It’s what sends you into a drunken Twitter rage as a potpourri of Heat, Nets, Bulls, Lakers, Celtics, etc. fans ridicule and mock your team’s misfortunes. As a fan, It’s tough to defend. Hell, it’s tough to even comprehend.
Why, JR? Why do you treat me this way? Why do you act as if nothing matters? Why don’t you listen to me when I tell you to shoot off the catch and drive the lane more often? Why don’t you listen to me when I tell you to run the pick-and-roll with Tyson instead of taking a spin-fadeaway-whatever-it-is-that-you-do? Helloooo? Are you even listening to me? Wait, no, no, no! JR, nonononoooo…
OH MY GAWD I LOVE YOU JR I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU
*lets out huge sigh of relief*
MAN, did you see that shot? It makes you quickly forget that JR went 6-16 from the field in that game, jacking up 9 threes and missing EIGHT of them. The Knicks won. As many people love to remind you, the checkmark on the win column is the only stat that matters.
During the Great Melo Drama that put the 2010-11 season in an arrogant headlock all the way up to the very last moon phase before the trade deadline, I pined for JR.
“You know, I wouldn’t be upset if the Knicks took back JR Smith in this Carmelo deal,” I repeatedly told family, friends, work associates, and the stuffed monkey embroidered in Knicks-colored stitchings sitting on my desk.
“He could be great as a 6th man on this team. Carmelo and STAT would be our one-two punch in the starting lineup, and JR could come in and torch defenders if they let up once the Knicks go to the bench. It’d be perfect.”
(As we all know, the Knicks did not end up snagging JR in that deal, instead being forced to take Chauncey Billups’ brain tissue and Anthony Carter’s aging corpse.)
“Sure, he’s a loose cannon. Sure, he drives coaches crazy with his shot selection. But, doesn’t D’Antoni like shooters anyway? Doesn’t his system require shooters like JR to space the floor for the pick-and-roll? And better yet, JR is a capable enough playmaker to run the PnR at times. He’s also athletic enough to play the role of off-ball slasher. How can this not work?”
Someone (at a bar) once told me that all fears stem from a fear of the unknown. Is that what this is? Am I constantly in fear of what JR is going to do next? But if that’s true, what exactly am I scared of? Am I scared he’s going to hoist up a 40-foot heat check? Or am I scared I’m going to love him if the shot falls? I don’t know. What kind of question is that anyway? Anyone who throws up a 40-footer in ANY situation where the shot/game clock is >= 2 seconds should be tarred and feathered, much less loved. So, what makes JR so polarizing in this sense?
On a team riddled with fashionistas, artists, “stars”, and what appears to be a human doing his best bulldog impression, all under the guidance of a death stare so powerful, it manifested the most perfect beard known to man, JR seems to be perfectly comfortable with making those mistakes. He appears to be unperturbed with taking an ill-advised shot, trotting over to the bench, receiving an earful from Woodson, then galloping back out and hurling another step-back three. Win or lose, JR is still going to do it. And win or lose, you best believe he’s not going to let his Twitter mentions dissuade him from doing it again in the next game.
Is that it? That “#SoWhat” attitude he so visibly wears on his (tatted up) sleeve? That “bad guy” I wish I could be? Because I really do wish I could post a picture on Instagram of my boss donning a polka-dot shirt, label it as one of the “top 5 worst shirts” I ever laid eyes upon, and still have my boss show enough confidence to let me take the lead at the next project meeting.
Alas, I’m not JR. And I can’t @-reply my mentor’s daughter as freely as JR does. So when JR does nail that three point attempt that drives me up and down the wall of convention, I do cheer. I cheer my damn head off. I chuck a sneaker and do a backflip off my couch. I take a shot of Ketel vodka and chase it down with a Red Stripe. I yell so loud, I hope it wakes the neighbors. I do it because I can, and if you don’t like it, #SoWhat.
Having endured basketball’s equivalent of Dante’s Inferno for nearly 13 years, I routinely look for a Knick to rattle me the way those 90s Knicks did. Someone who will make this season fun in luie of putting up with yet another disappointing campaign. Someone to stir some emotion into an otherwise emotionless Dolan-mandated PR parade. It’s why I consider a John Starks, an Anthony Mason, a Charles Oakley all-time greats, when other basketball fans would laugh at the notion.
Why? Because EFF YOU. That’s why.
And no one on this Knicks team embodies that more than JR Smith. In this city, that rugged disregard for seemingly anything goes a long way.
Go ahead, #Starer. You heave that bomb and I’ll try my best not to hate you for it, even though I probably will.
But, don’t worry. Deep down inside, I know that I love you.