When JR Smith isn’t on the court for the Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, there’s a decent chance you’ll find him hitting the links. Smith, a single-digit handicapper, is an avid golfer who hosts an annual charity tournament in his home state of New Jersey.
On Wednesday, Smith got inside the ropes when he caddied for major champion and Cavs fan Jason Day in a practice round ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational, held in Akron, Ohio.
Smith and Day sat down with ESPN.com to chat about the similarities between basketball and golf, Stephen Curry‘s professional debut and that time LeBron James accidentally crashed into Day’s wife, Ellie, at a Cavs game back in 2015.
Editor’s note: This interview originally published on Aug. 3 and has been edited for length and clarity.
ESPN.com: JR, when you watch Jason up close, what are you paying attention to?
JR Smith: The way he prepares for a swing. Even today, I didn’t even ask the question, but I heard him telling one of my boys, like, “What are you doing when you close your eyes?” He says, “I’m picturing the shot. … I’m picturing the shot I want to hit before I hit it.”
And a lot of times that’s what happens with me when I’m running down the court and I know that the ball is coming to me. I already see myself making the shot before I even shoot it. So to see someone on his level to do that in another field … things are really tied together like that [between basketball and golf].
ESPN.com: Jason, what do you pick up from JR’s game?
Jason Day: He does unbelievably well when he’s contested. So when he’s shooting 3-pointers, if someone’s in his face, he’s probably the best, you know? It’s amazing to watch … you just realize how fast the game is out there watching it. But to them it must seem like it’s just normal and slow to them when they’re in the zone.
ESPN.com: JR, do you think Jason can help you on the basketball court?
Day: No way! No way I’m going to help him on the court.
Smith: I mean obviously golf is, people think it’s more of a, you know, “It’s just you out there,” but it’s him and his caddie and he has help. But it’s more of like the focus thing. And once you can lock in hitting the shot that you want to hit and approach shots and stuff like that, it translates to hitting the corner 3s and transition 3s. And stuff like that from me.
Day: I think I’m just trying to help his golf game. You know it’s his offseason right now. If I can help him get down from an 8 [handicap] down back underneath 5, that’d be great.
ESPN.com: Steph Curry’s golfing on the Web.com Tour this week, so there’s competition among NBA golfers.
Smith: I got a secret weapon, though. I got a secret weapon [pointing at Day].
Day: It’s actually interesting to [see how] Steph Curry goes this week. It’ll be, it’s going to be tough … you know all these guys [on the Web.com Tour] are good. So it will be interesting to see how it goes, but it obviously brings a lot of attention to that tournament. So he does have, JR’s got a lot of competition between those guys, and there’s other guys in the league that play well as well.
ESPN.com: JR, what about the sport of golf speaks to you?
Smith: I think, for me, no two shots are the same. You could be on one tee box that’s a par-4, 450 yards and be on the next tee box par-4 450 yards — and it’s two totally different shots, you’re looking at two totally different things. And for me … you never know where my [basketball] shots are gonna come from — whether it’s fading out of bounds or transition or spot-up or off the dribble — no two shots are the same, so it makes me focus that much more and want to do it that much better than the last shot.
ESPN.com: There’s no defense in golf, so what is the biggest opposition for you on the course?
Day: Your ego, that’s the biggest thing. You’re really trying to control that your ego doesn’t get in the way of you actually making a smart decision out there, because sometimes you could be playing and you think you can actually take a shot on but actually you know, it’s not the right shot. And that’s your ego talking, because if you get out of your own way — and sometimes, to certain degree, ego does make you hit better shots, but you’ve got to control it.
ESPN.com: What about ego in basketball?
Smith: When you’re on a good team like the Cavs, it’s easy to get lost in, “We’re going to the Finals, we got this player, we got this player, we got that player,” as opposed to doing the little steps. … If you skip [steps] 1-2-3, everything’s going to come falling down.
Day: It’s very similar, I mean, like, in basketball, as long as you have everyone pulling in the same direction, you’re going to succeed. And that’s the same in golf: I’ve got an agent, I’ve got a wife that supports me at home, I’ve got coaches and trainers.
ESPN.com: Jason, you and your wife had a bit of a scare in 2015 when LeBron James crashed into you while you were sitting courtside. How much of that do you remember?
Day: We weren’t really paying attention — I was, like, talking to my buddy — and then I saw a ball bouncing and then all of sudden you see this train coming across and steamroll over my wife. And then I’m like, I didn’t know how to react.
I went over and talked to her, and LeBron went back and got in the game, I’m sitting there talking to her … as long as she was OK, she was breathing, everything was fine — she just had a bit of a sore neck — and then after I knew that then everything was going to be fine.
It’s tough in a situation like that because you’re an athlete and then you got put in the spotlight because your wife gets run over by LeBron James.