CLEVELAND -- The last year has been an emotional one for Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith.
From helping the Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals, a win that broke a 52-year championship drought for Cleveland and resulted in a parade attended by 1.3 million people, to a contract dispute and December thumb surgery that required three months of rehabilitation to heal, Smith has been through a bit of everything on the court.
However, all of the basketball struggles paled in comparison to what Smith has encountered in his personal life, as his daughter, Dakota, was born five months premature and spent more than 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) before going home for the first time in May.
“Having her home and going through everything we have went through, I really don't consider this stress,” Smith said prior to the start of The Finals against the Warriors. “This is as much fun and play as possible. That's the stressful part, worrying about her as far as medical stuff. So this stuff here, this is playtime.”
Born to Smith and his wife, Jewell Harris, at one pound in January, Dakota proved every bit the fighter, overcoming the odds and getting to go home in May. Having been moved by their experience in the hospital, Smith surprised every mother with a child in the NICU with flowers on Mother’s Day.
Since bringing Dakota home, Smith has formed a heartwarming bond with his youngest child.
“For whatever reason, once she starts laying on my chest and she hears my heartbeat, she goes right to sleep,” Smith said.
Smith’s bond with his daughter is similar to the relationship he has with his parents, Earl Jr. and Ida.
During his 12 years in the NBA, Smith has gone through multiple team and league suspensions for on-court behavior and off-the-court incidents, played in China during a lockout, and went through a guilty plea and short jail term stemming from a car accident that killed a friend.
And that is why Smith was reduced to tears when talking about the support from his family following the Cavaliers’ emotional 93-89 Game 7 win last June, especially given the fact that Cleveland brought home the title on Father’s Day.
“He always tells me to keep shooting,” Smith said. “He's so motivated and he's been in my life and around the game of basketball, as well, for me, so anything he says is, I usually think it's inspirational. I just think back to when I was a kid and what he used to say and in talking to me, and I just focus on those things. And if I do that, nine times out of 10, I'm successful.”