J.R. Smith has followed his own path to golf, from high school basketball star to 16-year NBA veteran and now an over-the-top athlete at North Carolina A&T College.
He wants his story to help others feel comfortable playing sports.
“There’s definitely room for everybody in the game,” Smith said. “No matter what color you are, age, gender, there’s room for anyone and everyone in this game.”
That’s Smith’s message with the launch of a video podcast on Wednesday that aims to make the sport more accessible to young and diverse audiences. The weekly Par 3 Podcast features Smith, celebrity high-end jeweler Ben Baller and Stephen Malbon, co-founder of the Malbon Golf lifestyle and apparel company.
Smith started playing in the NBA. Malbon played as a teenager, then returned as an adult. Baller is a late bloomer who has played golf for the past year.
The shows will cover topics from gear, fashion, brands and trends to the presenters’ personal highs and lows on the scorecard. It’s designed to get three golfers talking candidly about the game they love, and to do so in a way that makes the sport feel broadly welcoming, rather than limited to a select group based on race, wealth or social status.
That’s important in a sport with a racially troubled past, such as the PGA of America, which banned black professional players until it repealed its Caucasian-only clause in 1961.
“When you think about the older version of the game compared to this newer, modern version, where kids from all different backgrounds and communities are actually playing the game, it’s not just a stifling old white sport anymore,” Smith told The Associated Press. to . “We’re breaking down those barriers and we want to continue to break down those barriers because it’s an old way of living, mind you. And it wasn’t true.
“For us to be able to have platforms like this with Stephen and Ben and myself, I feel like it’s constantly breaking down those barriers. And it shows people that you can be, whether it’s a skateboarder, a jeweler, a designer or a basketball player, you can be any walk of life … and still have the same love, joy and passion for a sport like golf.”
Malbon talked about playing golf with his 10-year-old son, reflecting on his interest in attracting young players and keeping them engaged for the long term.
As he said. “You can like the Wu Tang (Clan) and be really good at golf, and that’s totally fine.”
It helped that Smith, a two-time NBA 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 HBCU traditions and culture.
“He made it great,” said Baller, who is transitioning from his jewelry business to play full-time. “Because JR is a great guy. You see JR and he had this (NBA) bad boy image. But then you get to meet JR in person… and I say. “Well, he really respects the game in its pure form.”
Smith’s transition raised the 37-year-old college golfer’s focus on the sport, similar to the work of current NBA star Stephen Curry, who helped Howard start the golf program and has worked to improve youth access through his UNRECOMMENDED 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 just have to go at it 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