J.R. Smith’s NBA Career Was Almost Cut Short by a Tragic Car Accident

J.R. Smith has had quite an interesting career. At times, he’s competed like a potential All-Star, serving as an important cog in championship-caliber teams. Other times, he’s played with maddening inconsistency, making mistakes that cost his team in big moments.

Over a decade ago, Smith experienced an event that changed the course of his life and nearly cost him his career. Let’s look at Smith’s career, the tragic car accident that nearly ended it all, and the fallout from it. 

J.R. Smith’s NBA career so far 

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Smith’s unconventional career began in an unconventional way: he skipped college basketball to enter the 2004 NBA Draft right out of high school, just as fellow 2004 draftee and number one overall pick Dwight Howard had. According to Basketball-Reference, the New Orleans Hornets selected Smith with the 18th overall pick in the first round of the draft. 

Smith has career averages of 12.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game. He’s been something of a basketball nomad, playing for several teams over his career. Smith began in New Orleans before spending five seasons in Denver and four with the Knicks. Then, he found the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he had the most success.

Smith spent five years in Cleveland and was a key part of their 2015-2016 championship team that rebounded from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors for the Cavs’ first title. The next season, Smith and Co. would be back in the Finals, again against the Warriors but this time with disastrous results.

In the last seconds of game one, Smith collected a rebound while the game was tied. Rather than put up a shot, he dribbled out the clock, thinking the Cavs had the lead. His mistake led to an overtime loss and eventually, a loss in the series. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the only mistake Smith made — though another one had more tragic consequences. 

The accident that nearly cut J.R. Smith’s career short

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ESPN reported that in 2007, while still playing for the Denver Nuggets, Smith was driving 67 miles per hour in a 35-mile-per-hour zone. His reckless driving led to an accident, hitting another car as he ran a stop sign. It caused him and his passenger to be ejected from the vehicle.

Smith received minor injuries from the accident. Later, a judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, suspending 60 days of the sentence if he served 500 hours of community service. At his sentencing, Smith expressed his sincere remorse for the incident, holding himself accountable for his actions. 

The fallout of J.R. Smith’s tragic car accident

According to Fox 8 in Cleveland, Smith’s friend Andre Bell died in the accident. This was a huge blow to Smith, who struggled with his role in Bell’s death for a long time. Along with the accident having the potential to end his NBA career, this made it a traumatic event in more ways than one. 

In 2016, Smith reflected on the incident and the power of forgiveness in comments for Uninterrupted. Smith said that while he couldn’t forgive himself for a long time, eventually he found a way to do so: 

“I think a lot of people hold grudges and stuff that other people have said and done to them…I had never really forgave myself for. The family has and friends have. But I haven’t for myself. But I can honestly say I can live and deal with it through forgiveness.”

The Denver Post reported that Bell’s mother, Wanda, tearfully forgave Smith and told him she loved him. As horrible as the accident was, Smith’s fortunate for two things: that he escaped with his life (and less importantly, his basketball career) intact, and that through the grace of his friends and family they were able to forgive him.