Pitch & putt: NCAA golfer J.R. Smith has NIL rep

Golf

In a first for a high-profile ex-professional athlete, North Carolina A&T freshman golfer J.R. Smith — a retired 16-year NBA guard — has signed with Excel Sports for NIL representation, agent Lance Young told ESPN.

Smith, 36, is beginning his second semester for the Aggies and his emergence as perhaps the most well-known Division I golfer has inspired significant endorsement possibilities that could earn him well into the six-figures under the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness legislation.

There’s significant NIL interest among golfing equipment and clothing manufacturers and video game companies, Young tells ESPN.

Smith has expressed a desire to become a bridge to the sport of golf for underrepresented minority groups, and his matriculation as a full-time undergraduate at N.C. A&T — an HBCU in Greensboro, North Carolina, has captured significant attention. Smith has a considerable social media following too, including six million followers on Instagram.

Smith earned roughly $90 million in salary in his career. He won titles with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016) and the Los Angeles Lakers (2020) and earned an NBA Sixth-Man of the Year award with the New York Knicks in 2013. As one of the final prominent preps-to-the-pros players, Smith made the leap from St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey, to the NBA draft in 2004. He was the 18th overall pick to New Orleans.

The NIL doesn’t allow the full freedoms of a professional endorsement agreement. Smith can’t promote sponsors in NCAA-sanctioned events, but can do such things as commercials and social media postings. Companies such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling are banned from NIL representation.

For example too, an NIL deal can’t include performance bonuses for playing well in a college golf tournament. Nevertheless, Smith’s appeal to companies will be in his popularity as an ex-NBA player who can deliver brands an avenue to new and broader audiences.

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