Ex-NBA guard J.R. Smith aims to make golf more accessible

Ex-NBA guard J.R. Smith aims to make golf more accessible

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JR Smith has gone his own way in golf, going from high school basketball star to 16-year-old NBA veteran and now older-than-usual college athlete at North Carolina A&T.

He wants his story to help others feel comfortable playing the sport.

“There’s definitely a place in the game for everyone,” Smith said. “No matter your color, age, gender, there’s a place in this game for everyone.”

That’s Smith’s message with the Wednesday launch of a video podcast aimed at making the sport more accessible to young and diverse audiences. The weekly Par 3 podcast features Smith, renowned high-end jeweler Ben Baller and co-founder of lifestyle and clothing company Malbon Golf, Stephen Malbon.

Smith started playing while in the NBA. Malbon played as a teenager, then returned as an adult. Baller is the late player who got into golf in the past year.

The shows will cover topics ranging from gear, fashion, brands and trends to the hosts’ personal ups and downs on the dashboard. It’s designed for three golfers to have a candid discussion about the game they love, and do so in a way that the sport feels broadly inclusive rather than limited to a select group based on race, wealth, or social status. .

That’s important in a sport with a problematic history on racial issues, such as the PGA of America banning black professional players until its Caucasians-only clause was overturned in 1961.

“When you think about the old version of the game versus this new modern version where so many different kids from different backgrounds and communities are actually playing the game, it’s not just this stuffy old white sport anymore,” said Smith told The Associated Press. . “We break down those barriers and we continually want to break down those barriers, because it’s an old way of living, of thinking. And it wasn’t right.

“For us to be able to have platforms like this with Stephen, Ben and myself, I feel like it continually breaks down those barriers. And show people that you can be – whether it’s a skateboarder, a jeweler, a designer or a basketball player – you can be any type of life… and you can still have the same love, the same joy and the same passion for a sport like golf.

Malbon spoke about playing golf with his 10-year-old son, referring to his interest in attracting young players and keeping them involved for the long term.

As he said, “You can like Wu Tang (Clan) and be really good at golf, and that’s totally okay.”

It helped when Smith, a two-time NBA world champion, chose to attend and play golf at a historically black college or university, which followed a 2021 push by the league and its players to support the traditions and culture of the HBCU.

“He made it cool,” said Baller, who is quitting her jewelry business to play full-time. “Because JR is a cool guy. You see JR and he had this bad boy character (NBA). But then you meet JR in person… and I’m like, ‘OK, he really respects the game in its pure form.’ »

Smith’s transition to a 37-year-old college golfer brought attention to the sport, as did the work of current NBA star Stephen Curry, who helped Howard launch his golf program and worked to improve access for young people through its UNDERRATED Golf project.

“It sends the message that you can be who you are, you don’t have to apologize for who you are,” Malbon said. “You can just go out there and get better every day. And I think (Smith) shows that, which is great.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

AP Golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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