J.R. Smith, who went straight from high school to the 2004 NBA draft, is starting college this fall at North Carolina A&T University, where he will also play on the golf(!) team, as the NCAA approved the 35-year-old’s amateur status in the sport on Tuesday. To most, the response to this news might be: Huh, neat. To some of his new peers, understandably, the response might be: It’s surreal that J.R. Smith is walking around at my damn college, and I’m going to post on TikTok about how he’s “probably off the henny right now.”
To the wildly popular sports video aggregators that serve the masses a viral slurry of highlights, lowlights, breaking news, uplifting memes, and copaganda, the response was: Yeah, let’s blow up that college kid’s post.
Accounts like House of Highlights and Overtime serve as the primary portal for sports information for millions of internet users younger than Smith, including other professional athletes, who regularly grace their comment sections with their favorite emoji rebuses. Smith was not pleased to see himself depicted this way, in front of such a massive audience, by a media company that nominally maintains higher editorial standards than a solitary college student futzing around on his phone. He made that much clear in a comment on a now-deleted House of Highlights video:
Then again, it might also be futile to expect much more from these outlets, which literally began with a solitary college student futzing around on his phone, and are intended to convey that precise feeling. Someday that futzing ends up raking in 10 percent of a large digital outlet’s $200 million in revenue, and then it all feels a lot ickier.
It must be odd to be done with the league and moving onto other projects, only to realize that you are still haunted by a wholly memeified depiction of yourself—as Smith clarified last year, he doesn’t even like to drink Hennessy—which will be lingering out there in the cultural ether, making people money, no matter what else you do with your life. Possibly this is acceptable price to pay for some $90 million in salary and two NBA rings. But it’s definitely a tradeoff! I just hope this psychological tension does not impede Smith’s output of wholesome student-athlete posts.
So far, we’re still doing great.