Many basketball fans have wondered if Russ Smith, the former Louisville star and NBA player, is related to JR Smith, the two-time NBA champion and former high school phenom. The two share a common surname, a similar playing style, and a New York metropolitan area background. But are they really brothers from another mother?
The Short Answer: No
The short answer is no, Russ Smith and JR Smith are not related by blood or by marriage. They are not brothers, cousins, or even distant relatives. They just happen to have the same last name and a passion for basketball.
The Long Answer: A Tale of Two Smiths
The long answer is a bit more complicated, as it involves the different paths that Russ Smith and JR Smith took to reach the NBA and beyond.
Russ Smith: From Queens to Louisville to China
Russ Smith was born in New York City on April 19, 1991, to Paulette A. O’Neal and Russell Smith. He attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, where he played basketball for legendary coach Jack Curran. He led the New York City Catholic league (CHSAA) in scoring as a junior and senior, averaging 24.5 and 29.6 points per game, respectively. He also scored 47 points twice in his senior year against St. Francis Prep and Christ the King. He was named to the 2009 New York State Sportswriters Association all-state team, made the first-team all-CHSAA “AA”, and New York Daily News All-Queens first team as a senior. He played in the 2009 Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game at Madison Square Garden on April 18, where he scored 27 points and earned co-MVP honors as his City team beat the Suburban team 129–120.
Russ Smith then played prep school basketball at South Kent School in Connecticut in 2010, averaging 19.7 points and 3.9 assists per game as South Kent went 20–12 on the season. He committed to play college basketball at Louisville under coach Rick Pitino, after initially considering UConn, Florida, Baylor, and Virginia.
At Louisville, Smith became one of the most prolific scorers and defenders in the nation. He played a starring role as a junior in helping the Cardinals win the 2013 NCAA championship, while earning third-team All-American by the NABC and the Sporting News. As a senior, he was named a consensus first-team All-American, after averaging 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. He also won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s top senior under six feet tall. He finished his college career as Louisville’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,908 points. His No. 2 jersey was retired by Louisville in 2016.
Smith was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the 47th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on draft night. He played sparingly for the Pelicans and the Memphis Grizzlies in his rookie season, appearing in only 27 games and averaging 2 points per game. He then spent most of his career overseas, playing for teams in Turkey and China. He had his most success in China, where he won multiple awards and scoring titles in the NBL (the second-tier league). He averaged 61.2 points per game for Luoyang Zhonghe in 2017, and scored a career-high 81 points for Guizhou White Tigers in 2019. As of March 5, 2023, his 65-point performance remains the NBA G League single game scoring record. He is currently playing for Pallacanestro Nardò of Serie A2, the second division in Italy.
JR Smith: From New Jersey to Denver to Los Angeles
JR Smith was born in Freehold Borough, New Jersey on September 9, 1985, to Ida Earley and Earl Smith Jr. He grew up in Millstone Township, New Jersey. He attended Lakewood High School for two years before transferring to Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark for his junior year. He played basketball for both schools, earning national recognition as one of the top prospects in his class. He committed to play college basketball at North Carolina after a lengthy recruiting battle with Duke.
However, after winning co-MVP with Dwight Howard at the 2004 McDonald’s All-American Game, Smith decided to forgo college and declared for the 2004 NBA draft. He was selected by the New Orleans Hornets with the 18th overall pick, becoming one of the last players to enter the NBA directly from high school before the age limit was implemented.
As a rookie, Smith was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month three times (January, February, March) and participated in the 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Contest, finishing third. He played two seasons for the Hornets before being traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2006. He played five seasons for the Nuggets, forming a dynamic duo with Carmelo Anthony and becoming one of the league’s best sixth men and three-point shooters. He averaged a career-high 15.4 points per game in 2009-10, and helped the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Finals in 2009.
During the 2011 NBA lockout, Smith signed with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), where he averaged 34.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, and made a CBA-record 14 three-pointers in a single game. He returned to the NBA in 2012, signing with the New York Knicks as a free agent. He played three and a half seasons for the Knicks, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2013 after averaging 18.1 points per game off the bench. He also set a Knicks franchise record for most three-pointers made in a season with 204 in 2013-14.
In January 2015, Smith was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Iman Shumpert and a first-round pick in exchange for Dion Waiters and two second-round picks. He became a key contributor for the Cavaliers, helping them reach four consecutive NBA Finals from 2015 to 2018. He won his first NBA championship in 2016, when the Cavaliers came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Golden State Warriors in seven games. Smith made seven three-pointers and scored 25 points in Game 7 of that series. He also became infamous for his blunder in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, when he dribbled out the clock instead of attempting a shot or passing to an open teammate after grabbing an offensive rebound with the score tied at 107-107. The Cavaliers lost that game in overtime and were swept by the Warriors.
Smith played only 11 games for the Cavaliers in the 2018-19 season, as he requested a trade and was eventually waived by the team. He did not play in the NBA for over a year, until he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in July 2020 as a replacement player for Avery Bradley, who opted out of the season restart due to COVID-19 concerns. Smith played sparingly for the Lakers, appearing in only eight regular season games and six playoff games. However, he won his second NBA championship as the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in six games in the 2020 NBA Finals. Smith became one of only two players (the other being LeBron James) to win an NBA title with two different teams in the same decade.
Smith retired from professional basketball after winning his second ring. In August 2021, he enrolled at North Carolina A&T State University, where he joined their Aggies golf team as an NCAA athlete. He made his college golf debut on October 11, 2021 at Elon University’s Phoenix Invitational tournament.
The Conclusion: Different Smiths, Similar Stories
Russ Smith and JR Smith are not related by blood or by marriage, but they have some similarities in their basketball journeys. They both skipped college to enter the NBA draft out of high school or prep school. They both played for multiple teams in their NBA careers, and had stints overseas in China. They both won awards and accolades for their scoring and shooting abilities. And they both have memorable moments and nicknames that define their legacy.
However, they also have some differences that set them apart. Russ Smith is five inches shorter than JR Smith, and plays mostly as a point guard rather than a shooting guard or small forward. Russ Smith has never been an All-Star or a starter in the NBA, while JR Smith has been both. Russ Smith has never won an NBA championship, while JR Smith has won two. Russ Smith is still playing professional basketball at age 32, while JR Smith retired at age 35 and is now pursuing college golf.
Russ Smith and JR Smith are not brothers from another mother, but they are both remarkable basketball players who have left their mark on the game.