Steve Smith has been a basketball analyst for Turner, TNT and NBA TV since 2008. His 14 year career in the NBA included playing for the Miami Heat, the Portland Trail Blazers and the San Antonio Spurs, but is perhaps best known for his five-year stint with the Atlanta Hawks.
Steve: “Absolutely. There’s no more secrets. They know each other, especially when you get to game 7, they know every player and play they call out, and they know every nuance. It’s like going from playing checkers to chess. They were playing checkers in the regular season and now you take it up to chess. Strategy, ability, the best of the best come out and then you’re scrutinized basically on every possession. Every possession counts and can change the outcome of the game so it’s been great. I mean, it’s unpredictable. The San Antonio Spurs, old men they say, with the opportunity for them to win it. Then you have the Boston Celtics that no one ever counted in and they’re still there. No Chris Bosh for the Heat, and then you have this young, supposedly too young to win it all team, because I guess the issue of the game is that you always win it with old players, but OKC is right there with these young guys on their team.”
Favorite moment so far?
“I’ve had a couple of them, but there have been some down moments. I really felt like somebody punched me in the stomach when Derrick Rose was out. I’m not particularly routing for any team, but I’m routing for great matchups. What the San Antonio Spurs have been able to do, beating everybody 4-zip 4-zip, it’s unbelievable. We’ve talked about Big 3 in the past but today The Boston Celtics have become Rondo and the Big 3. For a point guard that they say “can’t shoot” I’ll take 44 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds that performance was unreal.”
In 2003 you were playing for the San Antonio Spurs and went on to win a championship title with the team, any advice to the current team tied 2-2 with the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals?
Along with Manu, Tim, Tony, and Stephen Jackson, who have been there, the Spurs will always have you in a position to be able to win. Now tied at 2-2 the Spurs feel confident that they can win it. Back in 2003 we had an unsung hero that stepped up, Stephen Jackson, Speedy Claxton. To be able to get it done, they need somebody to step up. A new Stephen Jackson, a new Speedy Claxton. Not huge names, but somebody has to step up. Not just the Spurs but in all teams.
The Spurs have been to the playoffs every season for the past 15 seasons. Do you feel like this is a team that gets slept on far too much?
“They do, when you describe the San Antonio Spurs the word that comes to me is that they’re just vanilla, they’re like a grey suit. You’ll always add that beautiful tie, that beautiful pocket square, those beautiful shoes to it. You can put away all those beautiful things and you will always have a base to them, a grey suit. They’re not exciting, they’re not the team that all the kids want to go out and emulate, but they’re THE team. What sums it up is they play the game the right way, and they are totally about team effort. Especially the way Popovich has treated the team this year. He’s been playing 10/11 guys deep in the playoffs. Usually you’re supposed to cut it down to 7 or 8 in the playoffs and he went totally opposite.”
Let’s analyze the Western and Eastern Conference Finals at the moment. On the West we have the veterans against the youngins, and on the East we have the Veterans against the Big 3. If this season had not been condensed to 66 games, do you think we’d still have the matchups that we have currently?
“I have to give a lot of credit and advantage to the Spurs because they won in 1999 (after the last lockout). They Spurs would be there. The Lakers, if they had more time to get it together, they could have been there. Eastern Conference, the Bulls with a healthy Derrick Rose and a full season. I would have definitely thought Miami and Chicago.”
What does the title of “NBA Champion” mean to you?
“You know what, I look at the phrase “NBA Champion”, but to me it’s the World Champion. You’re the best in the world. From Day 1 to the end you have shown that you are the best collective team. You are the best in the world at your craft. It’s pretty much all 12 guys, fans, city, coaching staff that does it. That year, you show that you were the best team in basketball, and that’s what you play for. When it comes down to it you’re still a kid- I want to beat you, and you want to beat me, and I was the best at the end of the day.”
You also have an Olympic Gold Medal from the 2000 Olympics under your belt (Dream Team III). Are you excited for this year’s upcoming London Olympics?
“Oh yeah. After 2000 we won it, I think when we started playing overseas we had lost a couple of years and it started to look like we had lost our domination. I’m on the USA Basketball Board Of Directors, one as a fan, one as a player, one as a former player, and one for being on the board. I love to see our team’s domination. What’s new this year? Dwight and D Rose probably won’t play due to injury. Now it’s time for some young guys who probably wouldn’t have made it this year, who now have a chance, to step up.”
How does playing in the Olympics differ from playing in the NBA?
“In the NBA you have your fans and your city that’s routing for you. This one, you’re playing for your country. It’s unreal to be able to play and represent your country in that way. 2000 for me, first to win a Gold medal in basketball was unbelievable, but when you get a chance to really sit back…you look at basketball versus individuals who compete in the Olympics. They can’t have a false start for 4 years. An individual Olympian practices for 4 years for one shot. You get once chance to move on and compete every four years. I thought the pressure of playing in the NBA was unbelievable, but that has to be a serious amount of pressure. In basketball one of us can have an off day and have 4 other guys that can pick us up. With other Olympians it’s 4 years, one event, can’t have an off day. It would be like you getting ready to model and having one chance to walk down the runway…every 4 years.”
We all know that Steve Smith is not a name like Dikembe Mutombo where you only hear it once. What sets you apart from any other Steve Smith?
“You know what sets me apart, in the end, if I had to have somebody talk about me I think in my opinion I’d be the same Steve Smith. I’ve never changed. I just try to be well-rounded. I’m proud to have that basic name. I’ve joked with my Parents that they really showed some creativity in coming up with the name Steve Smith.
You’re currently an analyst on NBA TV, was the switch from the court to behind a teleprompter a hard transition?
“It was a hard transition because my mindset wasn’t to get into broadcasting 4 or 5 years before I retired. I had built a career in real estate, my next step was probably coaching and management if I was going to stay in basketball. I remember sitting at a restaurant and Turner executives asking me what I was going to do next, and then said well what about TV? And from then on they gave me the opportunity. I called some games for Turner, then with the Hawks. Since I’ve retired in 2005 I’ve been broadcasting. I look at it as – I have not had a real job yet. Still trying to pull off not having a real job and I love it and am enjoying it.”
You hold the record for most 3 pointers in a single game (9) for the Atlanta Hawks. I’ll be sure to pass the ball to you if there’s ever a Hunger Games Basketball Edition. Looking at the 4 teams left in the playoffs, who has the deadliest 3 point shooter?
“I’m going to go with Ray Allen. One of 2, or 3 of the best 3-point shooters ever so far.”
Random question. I LOVED “Open Court” that premiered on NBA TV a few months back. On one episode you stated that you did a commercial with Niki Taylor and the late Krissy Taylor (supermodels). Now you KNOW since I’m a model I have to ask, what’s harder, posing in front of a camera with models or Spalding?
“With models! With them, I was nervous and giddy like a little kid. With a basketball I was in control. But I was on their court. Watching them for that standpoint with 2 unbelievable professionals who were at the top of their craft at that time. So, I’d definitely say harder posing with them.”
Last but not least, in today’s game the rules are different. The calls are different, the uniforms are different, and the players are younger. Any advice to any aspiring NBA players who are planning on entering this newer system?
“We all have to change with our time. Whatever craft you’re in make sure you study the history, know the history, so you can know the foundation and so that you know how everything has evolved to where it is today. Knowing the history will give you the advantage over anybody who chooses to not know the history.”
Steve had one last request for doing this interview, he’d like me to teach him about the fashion industry because he wants to be the next 6’8” supermodel. I can’t think of a previous one, but I think I might be able to school him just a little bit.
Big, big, thank you to Steve for taking the time out of his busy Playoff schedule to talk to Heels To Hoops!!!!!! You all know I’m an OKC fan, but since Steve is now family I will throw in a “may the best team win!”
Steve Smith on Twitter: @steve21smith
Heels to Hoops