CLEVELAND, OH—As the Cavaliers return home for game 3 of the NBA Finals down 2-0, one figure has inspired this underdog city to hope despite the long odds. Indeed, the fact that J.R. Smith, of Freehold, New Jersey, has taken an NBA franchise this far is enough to make the saltiest cynic believe in the impossible. Known for untying opposing players’ shoes, offering pipes, and throwing bowls of soup, Smith’s charmingly naïve hi-jinks have propelled him along an unlikely career with all the surprising variety of a box of chocolates. He’s balled everywhere from New York to the land of China, but it is in Cleveland where he has finally found a home.
Enamored of his raw talent and delighted by his habit of occasionally running the wrong way or clear off the court on a fast break, fans at the Quicken Loans Arena have taken to yelling at Smith in unison and holding up signs with directions. Cavs coach Tyron Lue said of the shooting guard, “He must be the stupidest sumbitch I’ve ever seen! But he sure is a serviceably streaky shooter!” Such comments are nothing new for Smith, of course, who only ever reacts with admirable stoicism, typically saying, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Clevelanders are used to this kind of aphoristic wisdom from Smith, who consistently defies preconceptions of just what it means to be smart while teaching fans something about themselves along the way. Cavs season ticket holder Benjamin Buford recounts one story of when Smith noticed that his teammate LeBron James, with whom he is normally “like peas and carrots,” became inconsolable upon not receiving the ball. In the post-game interview, Smith said only, “I guess sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.”