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Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 at 4:22 pm  |  18 responses

The Infamous

Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart is facing yet another dose of adversity.

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by Leigh Klein / @LeighAlanKlein

For Marcus Smart, the basketball court is the place where life always made sense. It was the place where can could channel his anger, play with rage and let his unselfish soul flow by being a great teammate. It’s there where he could stand as he is, competitor and a warrior. Saturday night, he fell, literally and figuratively in the Cowboys’ loss in Lubbock, TX.

Smart has become the most vilified athlete in basketball, the Ron Artest of this decade.

Smart is no stranger to adversity. He grew up in the “war zone” of south Dallas where he watched one brother die to cancer and another nearly die living the gang life. As a 10-year-old, Smart was pleading with his older brother to come home and off the streets. There was a dark stretch when he believed he was going to kill someone or die, unable to control the grief and anger that flowed inside. Through anger management counseling, Smart was able to deal with his demons. A love out of the neighborhood likely saved his life and helped give him this college basketball career.

As a freshman for the Cowboys, Smart reinvigorated the program, giving it relevance to the national media as they returned to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. The ‘Dance’ ended prematurely for the Cowboys as they were upset in the second round of the Tournament, yet Smart sparkled all season and was rumored to be selected second in the 2013 NBA Draft. He shocked the basketball world by announcing a return to Stillwater to refine his game.

College basketball pundits everywhere rejoiced and Smart was the darling of the media world for his announcement. Now he is vilified by those same people.

***

Five months into Marcus’s sophomore season and the Cowboys are struggling. The pre-season Big 12 Player of the Year and the conference favorite are sitting seventh in the standings, losers of five of their last six contests. Prior to Lubbock, in a five-game span Smart’s shooting woes have been amplified. He converted only 19-42 from the field and beyond-the-arc, he shot a miserable 4-33. His shooting percentages starting to mirror last year’s averages, one of the areas he hoped to improve upon by returning to Stillwater. One big reason why is the absence of reliable inside presence—Michael Cobbins—to a season-ending injury just prior to conference play.

To compensate for this, Smart is battling his and the American public’s expectations and the pressure to perform like a superstar. For the first time in a long time, the adversity is wearing on him and his frustration has boiled over to negatively effect him and his team. The headlines have been filled with these struggles.

Teams have made it a point to get physical with Smart—bait him into silly fouls and try and get in his head. It has worked, the pre-season All-American has been the center of controversy with America questioning his composure, and rightly so.

West Virginia’s Juwan Staten discussed the strategy of targeting Smart, after the Mountaineers nearly won in Stillwater.

“We definitely scouted him, and we played him once so we know how he plays. He likes to be physical, so you have to be physical back,” Staten said. “Try to get in his head a little bit, try to get him to commit some fouls he doesn’t want to commit, try to get him in foul trouble. That’s what we did. We knew that if we could get him in foul trouble in the first half and slow him down that we’d have a pretty good chance of winning this game.”

How much should this student-athlete have to endure for the equivalent of roughly $17,000?

The NCAA has already publicly denied that they have the legal right to protect their student-athletes. The athletes are disposable, and thus, that’s why there is no security literally and figuratively for kids like Smart. He’s a target as the NCAA counts its dollars by the fistful and laps up the attention.

It also might cost Smart at the next level.

“Administrators making millions, coaches making millions and players at college can’t bring their families to the game, it makes me nuts. In some ways it’s his intangibles that set him apart his fire, his competitiveness and his drive,” one NBA scout told SLAM. “There’s improvement needed in his game, specifically his perimeter shooting, his east-west ability and his decision-making. This latest incident matters some but there is a time where talent and character are weighted toward number of possible wins that the player can influence.”

Faced with a three-game suspension, Smart and the Cowboys are at their lowest. Head coach Travis Ford’s job security is now in question. It’s just the latest dose of adversity that the once down and out pre-teen from south Dallas has had to deal with.

But that rough upbringing, the loss of siblings, is what must fuel him now. This is where his inner fortitude must be found. From the tragedy of his early teen years, he must rise up and make another rebound. This time, it will be his basketball life that he will look to secure.

Every teammate and competitor will attest that nothing will deny Smart his pursuit of the ball and his dreams. This is just one more chapter of perseverance.

Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns Five-Star Basketball Camps, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to SLAM’s coverage of college basketball and the NBA Draft and is a frequent national radio guest. Klein can be followed at @LeighAlanKlein.

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  • anon

    “Smart has become the most vilified athlete in basketball, the Ron Artest of this decade.”

    Not sure I agree with this statement. It’s strange, but when I read the ARTICLES about the incident, they keep portraying Smart as the villain…yet when I read the COMMENTS, most people portray Orr as the villain and are supportive of Smart while acknowledging that he shouldn’t have crossed the line and touched the “fan”.

    I could be wrong, but it seems like the (mainstream) media wants to pigeonhole this incident into an established narrative of black athletes “wildin’ out” to whip up controversy, while most intelligent basketball fans see this in more level headed terms.

  • leigh Klein

    You have a near unprecedented incident with a player pushing a fan in the college arena. There are three areas that need answering; the player, the fan and the atmosphere, meaning the Arena/security and the overall NCAA. It’s complicated and all have some blame to pass around.

  • anon

    “It’s complicated and all have some blame to pass around.”

    And yet, with all due respect, your article here is titled “The Infamous” and deals only with Marcus Smart. The fan, Jeff Orr, is not even mentioned by name. You begin your article comparing Marcus Smart, a college athlete, to Ron Artest and posit that this young man who is not yet old enough to drink is now the most vilified athlete of this decade. Marcus Smart isn’t even 2 decades old but now, apparently, he’s been labelled, categorized and seemingly written off for this one incident.

    While I do commend you for your superficially positive portrayal of Smart and the reporting of the difficulties he’s has endured in his life, I do see some bias, sir. My biggest objection is the implied notion that since Smart comes from a troubled background, he must be defined by his rage. The subtext of this article is that the defining trait of Smart is that he’s at war with his “demons”of anger and that in this case, they got the better of him. I personally believe Marcus Smart is a more complete person than this simple analysis – just as I believe that of any of the millions of other african americans who come from “warzones”.

    But let me ask a simple question:

    Marcus Smart comes from a very tough background, deals with death and trouble in his family and yet rises to become a talented athlete with a scholarship at a university. As a 19 year old man, he endures dozens of incidents of heckling and physical play but makes ONE mistake of responding physically to a taunt…and is labelled as “the infamous” and “the most vilified athlete in basketball.”

    Jeff Orr is a middle age man who earns a comfortable wage as an air traffic controller. He makes enough money to travel to all of Texas Tech’s games where he regularly shouts and berates opposing players mercilessly using the crassest and crudest of language. He’s been singled out by other players as being a particularly nasty heckler… yet he is considered a “superfan”.

    Which of these two has the true “anger management” problem? Which of these two has “demons”? And which of them should be truly “vilified”?

    I realize that your article is attempting to be sympathetic to Smart, sir, but I do believe that by describing him in such terms, even if under the pretext of reporting that this is the way that others in the media view him, you are not doing Smart justice and not addressing what you also admit is the “complicated” nature of the situation.

  • Dundler

    I can’t give this comment enough upvotes

  • Happy

    Very eloquently put. I highly doubt Mr. Klein responds but I am sure he read it. Sports writers along this vein seem content with one sided conversations when they are pushing hard for certain images to lock their writing subjects into. I do not believe for one second that he and others are unaware of Orr’s behavior history. It is very intentional that Orr is never mentioned at all, or mentioned only in the light of a great fan. Frankly, it’s cowardly “journalism”. Too many of them are afraid that no one will care about what they say if they don’t have a perfectly stereotypical villain as a subject. Journalistic integrity is going the way of the dinosaur.

  • Porky

    “Which of these two has the true “anger management” problem? Which of
    these two has “demons”? And which of them should be truly “vilified”?”

    Man this is a perfect way to sum up how this story should have been presented from the get go. Honestly, even Artests’ crazy a** romp in the stands is more understandable to me than some of the behavior that I’ve seen in sports crowds, political events, comment boards, and bars. There are these settings that people get in where all of their anger, hatred, and aggression comes out without filter and it reveals a much darker side to current American (human) culture than we care to admit.

    Yeah, no player should touch a fan. But it’s not because they don’t deserve to get stomped on, it’s because of the nature of a rabid fan is known ex ante-they are people that allow all of their horribleness inside to come out and be directed at a human they’ve never met simply because of the jersey they’re wearing. They’re scumbags who are poisonous inside. F*ck em.

  • The truth

    War Zone of Dallas? Really where is that? You failed to mention that the kid spent his entire year living in the very affluent neighborhood of Flower Mound Texas. So please stop creating a character that does not exist

  • The truth

    Sorry that was suppose to be his entire HS career living in the affluent community Flower Mound, Texas. Before that he lived in the mean streets of Red Oak..lol. I am not sure where you are getting that Dallas has war zones, no sir they do not.

  • leigh Klein

    This is from the Athlon interview with Marcus Smart about it:
    “I saw my friends doing all kinds of drugs. Snorting. Smoking. I didn’t even know what it was. Psycho-type stuff. I’ve seen people get jumped and beaten … shot. I’ve seen police chases every day. I’ve seen gang members drive through apartments, while little kids are in the street, don’t give a care; little kids getting hit by cars. I saw my brother sell (drugs) to one of my friends”. –
    See more at: http://athlonsports.com/college-basketball/college-basketball-qa-oklahoma-states-marcus-smart#sthash.HTM9mUk3.dpuf

  • leigh Klein

    Unfortunately the paragraph that I wrote about Phil Forte’s family helping Marcus and family move to Flower Mound ended up not making it in the article.

    This paragraph is from a story in USA Today 1/22/13 by Eric Prisbell
    OKLAHOMA STATE FRESHMAN SENSATION MARCUS SMART

    “One night near his home in Lancaster began like so many others, with Marcus and a friend stuffing their pants pockets with rocks and positioning themselves on the second floor of the apartment complex they called The Pinks, looking for a target with a pulse. Little did Marcus know this would be such a pivotal night in his life.

    Spotting a man on a bike in a black hooded sweatshirt, they unleashed rocks and celebrated with high-fives and laughs after – Bam! – the pelting knocked the man to the ground. But when Marcus looked again, all he saw was the bike. And all he heard was the thumping of a man racing up the stairwell and a frenzied voice promising to kill him.

    Marcus and his friend leaped over the second-story railing, landing hard on the concrete below. The man quickly followed. Fueled by adrenaline and fear, Marcus sprinted faster than he ever had on the football field or basketball court, zigzagging through alleyways to an adjacent complex, The Meadows.

    Behind Marcus, the footsteps and menacing voice grew louder. Marcus did not know that the man was a member of the Bloods street gang. And until he glanced back in the dimly lit roads, he did not know what object the man held in his hand: a loaded gun”.

  • leigh Klein

    Thank you for commenting. This is the first incident of a player putting their hands on a fan at least that I’m aware of. It’s significant on several levels. First, we have a rising tide regarding student athletes’ rights from pay, multi year scholarships, medical..unionizing at Northwestern….etc. Second, we have immense scrutiny on the NCAA for the present system.. Third, you have Smart’s decision to turn down Lottery money to return to college and his Draft status now compared to a year ago Fourth, we have this macro issue of fans rights, storming the court…yelling at players and how far has this gone and what should be done about it. We have a problem in America right now with fans code of conduct. You can see the Jeff Orr’s in the World in stands across the Country at games and it’s awful. As a nation we must address it from youth sports on up.

  • bike

    Other than resurrecting memories of the Malice in the Palace incident, maybe a little bit of good will come out of this. Orr has since gone public with apologies to both universities and Marcus. He has volunteered to not attend any more TT games this season. He isn’t screaming lawsuit and sounds genuinely sorry.

    So really what we had here is one guy saying something inflammatory, another guy overreacting and doing something stupid – and they both regret the hell out of it. Happens all the time in the real world.

    Maybe that’s all this is.

  • Tim

    Smart didn’t overreact, and do not try to minimize Orr’s slur as simply inflammatory. He went out of his way to be hateful and demeaning. He doesn’t get a pat on the back for trying to stem public criticism, which is all his apology was. No grown man with a family and a job wants the publicity of a high profile lawsuit highlighting his ignorant, uncivilized behavior. Let’s not try to put a halo over his self serving post incident actions. It’s almost disturbing that you think him “volunteering” to not attend games for the rest of the season is sufficient. He needs to be made an example of. The NCAA and the university should uniformly ban him as a show of zero tolerance for racist, abusive fan behavior. Marcus’ punishment is a suspension. Clearly you think fans should be able to police their own awful behavior. Smart shoved one guy. Orr demeaned an entire group of people. Whose behavior was simply inflammatory, and whose was simply the overreaction to what was going on? Looks like you’ve got it backwards.

  • guest

    Nation Admits It Would’ve Been Fun To Watch Marcus Smart Beat Absolute Sh1t Out Of Fan

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/nation-admits-it-wouldve-been-fun-to-watch-marcus,35250/

  • bike

    There is no evidence that what Orr said was racist. I’m not condoning what he said – whatever it was. Marcus apologized for his actions; Orr apologized for his. If you feel the hammer should come down harder on Orr, that’s fine, but then it better come down hard on every fan that hurls a derogatory remark at a player. A consistent set of rules for fan behavior does not exist.

    Based on reactions I have read on this incident, for every person that feels that Smart was acting like a wacked-out ghetto thug another person thought that Orr was acting like a middle-aged white racist prick who was harassing a young black kid. I’m suggesting that neither was the case; it was two guys that made a mistake and now regret their actions.

  • Tim

    The NCAA does need to come down harder on all fans, but what you are suggesting is that Orr gets the benefit of the doubt while Marcus is unquestionably wrong. Both were wrong to some degree, but Orr was worse. Given Orr’s behavior history, there is even less evidence that he is genuinely sorry and that won’t happen again. What are you saying, that Marcus should be penalized, and the issue should die? The NCAA has s duty to protect the people earning their billions. No matter what view you take, the fact of the matter is that Orr shouldn’t have been in the vicinity to get pushed after hurling slurs. There is always one case that sets precedent for new rules, and let this be it. You may want to simplify the issue so that it goes away, but progression is never that easy. The hammer needs to come down on Orr, and the NCAA has to answer for what they allowed to happen.

  • bike

    I’m not suggesting Orr ‘got’ anything. He certainly didn’t come out of this smelling like a rose. There has been plenty of serious criticism directed at this guy, He admitted he made a mistake and apologized. Is he sincere? I don’t know. Was Marcus sincere in his apology? I don’t know and neither do you.

    I’m not suggesting the issue should die either. If this is viewed as a watershed event where fan behavior should be monitored more closely, then go for it. It’s the conclusions that so many people jumped to that surprised me. Marcus is a violent ghetto punk, Orr is a racist, Marcus is another Ron Artest, this was somehow tied to Marcus’s upbringing, etc. etc. etc.

    Maybe OSU’s coaching staff is partly responsible. Smart both was playing and behaving on and around the court with an increased sense of desperation that was not in line with the persona he’d established for himself in his time as a college basketball player and prospect. He was under stress because his team was on a losing streak and in danger of missing the NCAA tourney. I’m not implying that OSU or anyone else could have foreseen Marcus charging into the stands but in hindsight, the warning signs of something brewing in this kid were there.

    So, as I said earlier, maybe something positive will come of this.

  • Tim

    The “warning signs” of something brewing in Marcus that you speak of were present for that game. Orr’s were present for years. Marcus is being publicly vilified, along with formal discipline. Let’s not compare the criticisms of Orr by a few internet commentators to the entire mainstream media and OSU coming down on the kid. All things are not equal. The one thing I can agree with you on is that something positive may come of this, except my view of positive will be seeing jerks like Orr banned from games. I highly doubt the NCAA will actually do anything, since they’ve made it abundantly clear than money over integrity is their priority. Hopefully they can prove me wrong.

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