Arrick Wilson, Contributing Writer
Last year, J.R. Smith won his second NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers. A year later, the NBA veteran retired after 16 years of play and became a 36-year-old college freshman.
I am an 18-year-old college freshman, just learning about the world as a whole. It has to be odd for Smith to be a 36-year-old, taking classes with peers that are twice his younger. Some might think it’s humiliating, but I think it’s inspiring to show not only the confidence, but the vulnerability it takes to go back to school.
In 2004, Smith committed to the highly touted basketball powerhouse, North Carolina. After the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game, Smith decided to skip the commitment and declare for the 2004 NBA Draft.
Smith would then embark on a long 16-year journey in the NBA after being drafted 18th by the New Orleans Pelicans, eventually averaging 12 points per game over the course of his career in the NBA.
Recently, Smith has enrolled in college at the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, a historically Black university in Greensboro, North Carolina. Smith has been using his Twitter as a journal to document his day-to-day experiences.
“I hated school growing up and I knew this would be a challenge, but that’s not going to discourage me one second,” said Smith in one of his latest tweets. “You have to be able to buckle down and lock into new journeys and challenges coming in your life. Observe, learn and adapt.”
I relate to a lot of what Smith tweets about regarding the college experience being hard at times. I used to hate going to school — sometimes I would fake sickness just to not be there. But as Smith said in his quote, adapting and learning perseverance is essential when embarking on new journeys.
“English is my first language but these papers though,” Smith stated in a tweet.
The dreadful college deadline is something of an ominous, figurative being that has been ingrained into my brain. Smith tweeted a gif of face-palm saying, “My first deadline is at midnight.”
I can relate to Smith, as when I had my first college deadline this semester, I felt overwhelmed.
Along with earning a higher education, Smith was recently cleared by the NCAA to play golf for the North Carolina A&T Aggies.
In an interview with The Undefeated, a sports and pop culture website operated by ESPN, Smith expressed his ultimate excitement with finally being a college student-athlete.
“It was probably one of the most exciting feelings I’ve had in a while. I really didn’t know how it was going to go. … but to be able to actually call myself a student-athlete is a great feeling,” Smith stated in a tweet.
It’s phenomenal to see another Black American like myself start their college journey. I am blessed to live in the generation where Black people are able to go to college. In the past, it was the dream of my ancestors to go to college, now it is a reality.
In America, there aren’t many examples of professional athletes going back to college, either. Usually we see professional athletes settle for a television job or a coaching job after they retire from their sport. It’s inspiring to see not only a Black man, but a former athlete go back to school to pursue an education. In the future, I believe that many former athletes should take a page out of Smith’s book, and not be ashamed of returning to school.
It is simply beautiful that Smith has been resilient and shared his empowering journey of the college experience. It seems that Smith is determined to earn his college degree, and his former fans, like myself, are here for the ride.