J.R. Smith Calls Time in Jail Most Humbling Experience of His Life
Eventually, though, there was so little to do in jail that Smith found himself perusing a chemistry book that was sitting around. Not that Smith claims he now knows his periodic table of elements.
The Denver Nuggets guard spent 23 days in jail in July after pleading guilty to reckless driving for a June 2007 accident that killed his passenger and good friend.
"Oh, by far," Smith said Friday when asked if it was the most humbling experience of his life. "I was in protective custody. They wouldn't let me interact with anybody. I was on 23-hour lockdown. I was pretty much in there by myself. The whole time you definitely see the difference between freedom and not being free."
Smith will start training camp with his Nuggets on Saturday, but he'll have to wait a bit longer than his teammates before stepping on the floor for a real game. Due to his guilty plea, the NBA suspended him for the first seven games of the season.
"It's always tough sitting out," said Smith, who was making his first comments since the suspension was handed down Aug. 28. "I'm just going to have to have a positive attitude and keep working hard ... I think the NBA was fair. They had to come up with some type of penalty. We've just got to fight through it."
Smith, 24, answered most questions directly during the team's media day. He said it helped him having veteran guard Chauncey Billups, who turned 33 Friday, come to Las Vegas to work out with and tutor him during the final month of the summer.
"He's definitely my mentor right now, and I pretty much try to follow in his footsteps," Smith said.
During their time together Billups said he and Smith had a lot of "in-depth conversations about him just growing up." Billups is pleased to see Smith beginning training camp with what he called a "clean slate."
"He has a great opportunity to be one of the best players in the league," Billups said of Smith, who averaged 15.2 points last season and was second in voting for the NBA Sixth Man Award. "I don't want to see him destroy that opportunity by being immature. He's made some mistakes, but the great thing about it is that he's owned up to it. And he's taken responsibility for that, and learned from that."
Smith's biggest mistake came in June 2007 in his native New Jersey. Police say Smith drove his SUV around a stopped car at a stop sign and into the path of an oncoming car. Both Smith and his friend, Andre Bell, were thrown from the vehicle. While Smith had only minor injuries, Bell suffered a serious head injury and eventually died.
Even after that, problems continued for Smith. He was suspended by the Nuggets for the first three games of the 2007-08 for conduct detrimental to the team due to a nightclub incident.
Smith also has continued at times to butt heads with Nuggets coach George Karl. And even after being released from jail last summer, the Denver Post reported there were posts on Smith's Twitter page written in a way commonly associated with the Bloods street gang. The Twitter incident did not sit well for Billups, who soon went to Las Vegas to try to knock some sense into Smith's head.
"I think actions speak louder than words," said Smith when reminded that some of his previous declarations about having matured haven't always come to fruition. "I've said in the past that I'm matured and all that stuff. But now it's not about saying it, it's about showing it.''
While in jail, Smith tried to keep in shape with a daily workout regimen of pushups and situps. He wasn't a huge fan of the food, and said he lost five pounds.
During the one hour daily when he wasn't locked down, Smith said he was able to take a shower and make phone calls. One call came from teammate Carmelo Anthony.
"It's kind of hard to talk to a close friend like that because you don't want to see nobody in that situation,'' Anthony said. "When somebody's in that situation, it's hard to ask somebody, 'How you doing?' You already know how they're doing."
Smith said he's doing fine now. He was asked what he learned from his jail stint.
"Wake up with a purpose," he said. "Have a goal. Know that every time I do something it doesn't affect just me. It affects my family, my friends, my team, players, coaches. So just be more cautious of my surroundings."
Basketball-wise, Smith said he doesn't care if he starts this season or comes off the bench. Karl had talked late last season about moving Smith into the lineup at shooting guard, but that might not end up happening.
Smith's seven-game suspension creates some uncertainty. And Karl, despite starting shooting guard Dahntay Jones having bolted to Indiana as a free agent, might not want to mess with his effective bench of Smith, big man Chris Andersen and point guard Anthony Carter.
"I have no idea how we're going to rotate the team," Karl said. "We're trying to balance and figure it out. To predict it now is really ridiculous."
Karl said Arron Afflalo has been looking great in offseason workouts, making Afflalo a candidate to start at shooting guard. The Nuggets also want to look at Joey Graham, who will sign a one-year non-guaranteed deal with the team as a free agent.
The Nuggets, though, seem to have no problem with possibly bringing Smith again off the bench. In additional to being the primary backup at shooting guard, he could be the top backup at small forward behind Anthony, with Linas Kleiza having gone to Greece as a free agent.
Count Karl as another who believes Smith has a chance to be a star. While Karl and Smith have had their ups and downs throughout the years, Karl is looking forward to talking to Smith about moving forward following his tough summer.
"We haven't had the two-hour talk, but I think that's going to happen," Karl said. "He's played golf with some of my assistants. I can now play golf (after offseason rotator cuff surgery). I'm thinking on a good sunny October day, it might be J.R. and coach Karl playing a $50 Nassau at some golf course in Denver."
As Smith looks to turn things around, he has changed numbers. With Smith giving his No. 1 to Billups, the number he used to wear in Detroit, Smith has taken No. 5. That's the number his younger brother Chris wears for Louisville, where he recently transferred after playing for Manhattan.
"I'm taking it day by day." Smith said of how he's now looking at life. "It's a fresh start."