“Dear Bojangles,” former NBA guard JR Smith started in a tweet directed at the Charlotte, North Carolina-based chicken-and-biscuit joint on Aug. 22. “I don’t know who came up with these Bo Berry Biscuits but may whatever God you pray to bless your heart and soul! Man o man.”
Two weeks later, Smith still had those specialty biscuits on his mind, tweeting again that he “can’t wait to get these bo berry biscuits man o man!”
In normal circumstances, a man’s appreciation of Southern-style fried chicken and biscuits wouldn’t be cause for any attention. But a cursory search of the Bojangles website shows that of the restaurant’s hundreds of locations, primarily in North Carolina, there’s not a single one in any of the states (Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, New York, Ohio and California) Smith played in during his 16-year career in the NBA. (Smith retired following the 2019-20 season.)
That’s because, as of Aug. 11, the two-time NBA champion has been enrolled at historically Black North Carolina A&T State, where he is a member of the school’s golf team.
Smith rejected college after graduating from St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, in 2004, choosing to enter the NBA draft, where he was selected 18th overall by the then-New Orleans Hornets. He told The Undefeated last month that Hall of Fame guard Ray Allen inspired him to return to school, which he said he didn’t take taking seriously when he was an All-American player in high school.
For the man whose high school yearbook quote was, “Get chicks or die trying,” Smith said last month that he was dedicated to educating himself now that he’s no longer a professional basketball player.
And to the delight of more than 780,000 people who follow Smith on Twitter, he has taken us on his freshman-year journey, which, if you ignore the $90 million in career earnings, makes him relatable to those who pursued postsecondary education at a four-year institution. Whether that be first-quiz jitters or … Bo-Berry biscuits.
Smith’s college tweets started off innocently enough: trying to find a FedEx in Greensboro, North Carolina, where N.C. A&T is located, to ship his golf clubs to, and not paying attention during an English class lecture, a subject he later admitted to struggling with (“English is my first language but these papers though”). That being said, Smith believes the English classes are already beginning to rub off on him and his vocabulary:
When not consuming what appears to be an unhealthy amount of Bojangles fast food, Smith was dealing with typical freshman problems. Needing a new laptop that can handle both coursework and Call of Duty: Warzone. Being concerned about his first assignment deadline. (Smith is taking online classes only this semester.) Like any student between their first and third year of school, wanting to change his major, which is currently liberal studies. Dealing with the pompousness of college professors requiring students to address them as “Dr.” He’s even participating in student government elections:
Smith, above all else, is quite introspective. He’s open and honest about his shortcomings and failures. While some athletes are corny, insecure, inauthentic or clearly have their tweets written by someone with a degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Smith is just documenting his life, and not in the way that used to get him in trouble while still playing in the NBA.
At one point, Smith appeared to be struggling with his studies in the early weeks of the semester, tweeting how he needed to do a “better job at taking notes,” how “disappointed” he was in himself, how there were “no excuses.” Smith demonstrated how crippling academic insecurity can be, particularly for first-year students.
But within weeks, he was back on track, sitting through five-hour tutoring sessions (“Mind gone [shocked face with head exploding emoji]”) and waking up at 5 a.m. to work on his coursework: “One bad week will not spoil the semester. Lace your boots up put your head up and go to work. #StuccInMyGrind.” He even found some time to listen to the new Drake album.
Smith’s journey is motivational. Multiple Twitter users, including actress Holly Robinson Peete, have said Smith has inspired them to further their education:
His tweets illustrate a maturation process for the guy who is unofficially the most-used celebrity for any 420-inspired internet joke. Smith said that he hated school when he was younger, which will make this journey all the more difficult, but “that’s not going to discourage me one second. You have to be able to buckle down and lock into new journeys and challenges coming in your life. Observe, learn and adapt.” He now enjoys things like tutoring sessions (“I really like Mrs. Burke extremely helpful”) and seems determined to become a more well-rounded adult, so he’s learning how to cook, starting with shrimp Alfredo, the college student equivalent of making a soufflé.
Yet his openness and vulnerability were met with the typical casual anti-Black racism of college athletes: suspected drug use (“All while you were probably smoking dope,” a Twitter user wrote in response to a Smith tweet about English homework) and sham academics (“Everyone around the city keep asking me ‘who you got doing your work’ s— me lol I’m really trying to learn something tf”).
Which brings us to the real fun of Smith’s musing about college life.
Within a week of classes starting at N.C. A&T, Smith began tweeting about what he was learning about the historical treatment of Black people in this country. You could practically see the kufi and laser eyes forming on Smith’s head like Iron Man’s nanotech suit in Avengers: Infinity War.
He’s learned about the health disparities between Black and white people (“African Americans especially have to cut out so much fast food and sugar in our diets. Diabetes rate is way too high and going higher. #nutritionclass”) and housing discrimination, retweeting a story from the Mississippi Free Press about the mass evictions taking place in an apartment complex in Starkville, with residents, who mostly appear to be Black, alleging they were given just three hours to vacate their homes during the pandemic:
Like any first-year student taking an African American studies course — and to be clear, practically every course at an HBCU is African American studies — Smith is questioning everything he’s ever known to be true. Such as whether the term “Creole,” according to Smith, “was a name they gave a certain type of slave during the middle passage when they came to America,” is offensive to Creole people (“I don’t want anyone to get offended I want to get a better understanding of people and who’s sensitive to who so I don’t offend or harm anyone’s feelings cause that’s not my goal”).
Smith has joined the “We Hate Christopher Columbus” crew: “The fact that we still use these globes and maps are a joke! North and South America so much smaller than the continent of Africa! #brainwash and can we stop talking about Columbus finding something that was already found! #FreeYourMind … Like why can’t we sue the boards of education for telling us lies all these years. Why is it STILL being taught!”
You can practically smell the burnt sage emanating from those tweets.
Smith even shook the table when it came to Black Greek-letter organizations (BGLO), tweeting that it “don’t make sense to me” to join a Black fraternity. “I’m supposed to join a group and call them my brothers after they treat me like s— and make me do stupid s—? How does that work?” Smith has obviously been oblivious to the BGLO/non-BGLO civil war over the last decade, understandable given his previous employment.
And when a Twitter user tried to shame Smith for having not learned this information in high school, Smith rightly shot back, “Naw what’s a shame is they didn’t teach it.”
He added, sounding like a young Malcolm Little: “We been taking baby steps for a long time now think it’s about time we started walking.”
Smith’s social media observations haven’t been all fun and games, though. After an N.C. A&T student posted a joke on Instagram about Smith consuming Hennessy while on campus, House of Highlights, a subsidiary of sports media company Bleacher Report, reposted the student’s message. Smith, who said two years ago that he would no longer drink alcohol, responded that “Henny s— really not funny.”
“As a Black man in America you still can’t move on from the bulls— that people continue to put on your name! Not one positive post about going to school and trying to better myself!” he wrote on Instagram. “Y’all make it look so weak/corny to inspire my people to want to do better you consistently bring up and post bulls—.”
Smith, after less than a month at N.C. A&T, says enrolling in college “literally might be the greatest purchase I’ve made!” And that’s coming from the man who was once spotted driving an armored car that appeared in a Fast and Furious movie.
While he said it’s still early, Smith is already looking to further his education even more:
“Dr. Earl Joseph Smith III, has a dope ring to it!” he tweeted last week. “A hell of a long way to go but not impossible. One day at a time! #GoForYours.”
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