By Brian Taylor
There’s always that one goofy player that gets under your skin, not because he’s awkward or uncoordinated, but because some way, somehow, he gets the job done despite being awkward and uncoordinated. Man, there have been some real stiffs that have been drafted into the “L”, Shawn Bradley, Yinka Dare (his “Hey!”should be next!), Todd Fuller, etc. There was one dude who made folks nuts in the mid 90’s and that was Rik “The Dunking Dutchman” Smits.
Coming out of Marist College in New York, (Home of the Red Foxes!) Smits was hard to miss. How many times have you walked past a 7’4” blonde Dutchman without questioning it? In the NCAA’s no one walked past Smits without having the ball smacked into the second row. Smits was picked number two behind Danny Manning in the 1988 draft and was sent to a Pacer team that sucked, but had promise, thanks to a young , rail thin forward named Reggie Miller. Initially, Smits was drafted to backup Steve Stiponavich, the Pacers’ incumbent starter at center. You know Billy Joe Cuthbert, from the Live 07’ commercials? That was Stiponavich down to the T. When Steve went down, as they say, a “star was born”.
Fast forward to the mid-90’s, the Pacers were now a serious squad, just ask the Knicks. Rik Smits was responsible for at least 65% of the grey hair Spike Lee has now. Everyone knew Miller was the Knicks main nemesis, but Rik Smits was his enforcer. I cant tell you how many times I’ve seen either Ewing or Shaq ready to clock Smits in a game, only to have Rik pump in 18 points and 10 boards of his own at the end of the night. Night after night, the Dutch Boy was “In the Paint”, giving Miller the confidence to bomb away at will.
Eventually, age caught up with Smits, with foot problems hobbling him. In his last two seasons, Rik went all out, making the Eastern Conference All-Star team (his only appearance) and riding with the Pacers all the way to the Finals before bowing out to Kobe and Shaq. Today, you’d compare him to Yao Ming, only more, well, blonde.
Nowadays, Smits’ love is for vintage, old school motorcycles and cars, and at 7’4”, I can imagine he’d have a hard time finding a rocket that fits, but if you get some time in between saving the world, and winning a Nobel Prize while at your office, look him up!