J.B. Smoove: Actor, comedian, basketball fanatic

J.B. Smoove poses for a picture with fellow basketball fans at the annual NBA Legends Brunch on February 16. (Keith Giagnorio / Medill)

By Keith Giagnorio
Medill Reports

You can learn a lot about J.B. Smoove from watching him portray Leon Black on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the hit HBO comedy series he stars in alongside Larry David. Both Smoove and the fictional Leon share the same high energy, quick-witted, and simply hilarious personality. Both are incredibly engaging and command the attention of any room they enter. Both have unique (albeit in very different ways) fashion senses. But what you might not be able to glean from watching Smoove perform is his deep burning love for the game of basketball.

Smoove, whose real name is Jerry Angelo Brooks, started his relationship with basketball in the Levister Towers housing projects of New York suburb Mount Vernon when he was just 3 years old, shooting on flimsy hoops he and his brother fashioned out of wire hangers.

These days, Smoove’s personality and his passion for the game have made him a recurring character in the NBA universe, particularly during the league’s annual All-Star Weekend festivities. After making an impression for several years as one of the more vocal and animated of the many celebrity attendees of All-Star Weekend, Smoove got his chance to step onto the court during the 2019 Celebrity All-Star Game in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Smoove was even more prevalent during the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago, talking basketball with Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson on TNT’s “Inside the NBA,” and cracking jokes at the same program’s first ever NBA All-Star Roast. Though not a participant, Smoove was courtside for this year’s Celebrity Game and attended several other All-Star events, always dressed to the nines in a fresh suit, overcoat, and of course his signature sunglasses and black fedora.

While the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star was truly everywhere throughout the weekend, his love for the game of basketball was on no better display than it was at the annual NBA Legends Brunch. The brunch is attended by thousands of people, including retired NBA players, media members, basketball executives and fans. Unsurprisingly, Smoove was in attendance and became one of the stars of the afternoon showcasing an unmatchable energy.

Smoove’s passion for basketball doesn’t just stop at the game itself, it also extends to its fans. When the event concluded, Smoove stuck around for over 45 minutes to take pictures with, and sign autographs for, any and every fan that asked. He took the time to engage with each individual person he encountered, making sure each of them felt noticed. The genuine appreciation he displayed to simply talk basketball with both fans and former NBA players lit up the entire hall as Smoove smiled, laughed, and joked his way through the crowd. He even went up on stage to crash the NBA legend autograph-signing panel that occurred after the event. Making room next to Horace Grant, he sat down to impart both his signature and some laughs on the young fans waiting in line.

Smoove particularly took to one young fan, taking a knee to level with the boy and putting his hand on his shoulder while conversing with him. “Sign right there, ‘cuz you’re gonna be big time,” Smoove said, asking for the young fan’s autograph in return for his own.

Smoove goofs around during the 2019 Celebrity All-Star Game. (Jeff Hahne/Getty Images North America)

While the 54-year-old Smoove will always be the first to crack a joke or make those around him laugh, his love for basketball is also rooted in the respect he has for those whose impact goes beyond just the game. With the 2020 All-Star Weekend paying tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, Smoove reflected on Bryant’s legacy and looked back with melancholy on his personal encounters with the Lakers icon.

“I got a chance to see his tenacity, his passion for the game firsthand,” said Smoove, recalling the first time he ever saw Bryant play when he moved out to Los Angeles years ago. Smoove described the experience with detail, as if it had just happened days ago. He wove together his memories of sitting courtside directly next to the Lakers bench, watching Bryant duel with Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith that night. Smoove recalled witnessing the Mamba Mentality up close and personal as Bryant attempted to pump his team up and will them to win even when trailing by 10 points with under three minutes left.

“I sat next to him and I saw what hard work, what dedication, and what teamwork really meant,” Smoove said.

Never one to be too far from basketball, Smoove has even intertwined his acting career with the game. He starred alongside Kyrie Irving, Shaq, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller and more in the 2018 basketball comedy “Uncle Drew.” Smoove’s potential next hoops movie could be even more star-studded as he has publicly campaigned to be cast in LeBron James’ upcoming “Space Jam 2.”

“LeBron, if I don’t get a part in ‘Space Jam,’ I’m gonna lose my marbles man!” Smoove said to TMZ Sports in September 2018. “You know what I’d be good for? I’d play a good alien. … Or maybe I could be like an assistant coach, because my basketball years are over.”

Regardless of whether he winds up sharing the big screen with LeBron and Bugs Bunny, fans can, without question, count on Smoove bringing side-splitting laughs, boisterous energy, and extraordinary passion to the game of basketball for years to come.

Photo at top: J.B. Smoove poses for a picture with fellow basketball fans at the annual NBA Legends Brunch on Feb. 16. (Keith Giagnorio/MEDILL)