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(From July 16, 2019)
J.R. Smith was many things in a Cavaliers uniform — frustrating and not engaged at his worst, a big shot-maker and the team’s most devoted defender at his best.
Smith was always good for a laugh, loved by his teammates and could make the front office feel both disappointed and proud.
Those who know Smith best will tell you he has a big heart, and despite the fame that can come with playing basketball for millions of dollars, was never too full of himself during his days in Cleveland. Rather, Smith was real, kind, charming. Mostly, he was fun.
Oh, there were those moments that no one will forget, moments only Smith could be a part of, moments that will march on in Cavaliers lore.
Who can forget when an agitated Smith threw a bowl of soup at then-assistant coach Damon Jones?
Who can forget Smith’s awesome offensive rebound in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals vs. the Golden State Warriors … only to not know the score and try to dribble out the clock, despite the fact the game was tied? Then Smith kinda, sorta tried to deny he made a mistake.
But as they occasionally smile and say in the NBA, that’s just J.R. being J.R.
Of course, two years earlier, who can forget how Smith hit some of the most important shots in team history? Those came in the third quarter of Game 7 of the Cavs’ run to their first and only championship.
Everyone talks about LeBron James’ block … Kyrie Irving’s dagger … the defense of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson on the Warriors guards. And those were all important plays. But without Smith putting the team on his shoulders, for just those few moments, the Cavs’ title likely never happens.
END OF THE RUN
Smith’s time in Cleveland came to a fairly unceremonious end Monday, with a press release announcing he’d been waived.
That was just the official release, though. Smith more or less checked out when James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and despite saying all the right things, Smith and the Cavs were no longer a match.
He lasted just 11 games before the team sent him home.
That was November, but Smith continued to cash some large checks and constrict much of the Cavs’ payroll. That wasn’t Smith’s fault, in any way, shape or form. All he did was sign the contract that was offered. Yet Cavs fans often took out their frustrations on the 33-year-old shooting guard who wasn’t playing.
How quickly those fans forgot a shirtless Smith celebrating and leading the cheers at the championship parade, or a shirtless Smith feverishly rooting on the Cleveland Indians, or a shirtless Smith … well, wherever J.R. went, he almost always was there without a shirt.
No one really knew why. That’s just J.R. being J.R., being real, being himself, being someone the fans always wanted to get behind and lend their support.
His inconsistencies on the basketball court didn’t always make that easy. But as a man, someone who always displays a love of life and appreciation of Cleveland fans, there was never any doubting Smith.
Basically, J.R. the player didn’t always answer the call, but J.R. the person never failed. And for that, Cavaliers fans should be eternally grateful he was here.