With NBA Armageddon (aka the Finals) getting underway by the Riverwalk in Texas, I harkened back to (actually, I just remembered), some of the great role players San Antone has had over the years.
As I was telling one of my boys the other day, the Spurs, for over a decade now, has been a “money in the bank” team when it comes to playoff time. One of the major reasons the Spurs always seem to have it together have been their role players, and in 2003 (the first NBA Finals on ABC, yuck!) one of the league’s hardest workers and craftiest vets got a ring, one Steve Smith.
Before I even start on my man Steve, is it me or have the Finals been cheapened by the whole “NBA on ABC/ESPN” thing? It seems so corporate and sponsored these days, unlike when you had Snoop Marvy Marv and the Czar on the Peacock, or even Tommy Heinsohn and James Brown on CBS. The only saving grace is getting to watch the Pussycat Dolls in jersey dresses for ten seconds before the action starts.
Coming out of Michigan State in the 1991 Draft, Steve wasn’t a flashy player, but he had that NBA Midas Touch, where the teams he landed on seemed to turn into playoff squads. Take the old school, Kevin Loughery edition of the Heat. On a team with “Rugged” Rony Seikaly, Glen Rice and “Baby Jordan,” Smith provided leadership and helped turn a losing Eastern Conference doormat into a respectable playoff team (one that fought MJ’s Bulls to a 5th game in the first round). With Seikaly headed to the Golden State, there were some moves made in South Beach, with Steve being shipped to ATL for Kevin Willis. And along with all his luggage, Steve Smith once again brought that Midas touch to a Hawks team that was in the beginning of the post-Nique era. Teaming up with Danny Manning (whatever happened to him?) and Mount Mutombo the Hawks went from a faceless squad to amongst the tops of the Eastern Conference. In one of the worst trades ever, the Hawks, tempted by the fool’s gold named Isaiah Rider, shipped Smith to Portland for Jim Jackson and an East Bay Funk Dunk, (which is really where the Hawks started their continuing downward spiral).
With the Blazers, Steve had an awakening, not only was he teamed up with studs like Scottie Pippen and a young Rasheed Wallace, but it was in the Rose City that Smith got his first whiff of last post-season play (that is until Kobe and Shaq snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the WCF’s). When the Spurs started making their championship run a taking the Lakers’ crown, they called on Smith for the veteran leadership and locker room presence.
In 2003, it all came together for Steve as his San Antonio Spurs beat Jason Kidd’s Nets for the Larry O’Brien, and Steve’s only championship ring. After the title season in Texas, Steve spent time as an on-court mentor to the young Hornets and Bobcats and even back to Miami where it all started before laying ‘em down for good in 2005.
There was one consensus thought amongst coaches and players alike when it came to Steve, the man could flat out shoot. It was his insane jumper that helped him be one of the league’s most efficient guys. Later in his career, he developed a sneaky, type of baseline spin move that was as automatic as the sunrise, so if you want a peek, check it out here.