Hawking for David Stern
Josh Smith and Steve Smith make the NBA Store at Champs an easy sell.
by DeMarco Williams
Maybe the kids heard the radio promo wrong. How else can you explain Atlanta Hawk forward Josh Smith and former NBA sharpshooter Steve Smith “working” at an Atlanta-area Champs and the place not be packed with fans? You’ve got to be kidding me.
But not 15 minutes after the event’s start time, the area surrounding the chain’s all-new NBA Store, a mini haven for hometown and league-wide apparel, begins to fill. OK, now that’s better. Nobody should miss seeing J-Smooth in a name tag or watching Steve help out behind the counter.
“I can’t touch the credit card,” Smitty asks as a customer hands over his Visa. The adidas rep politely gestures no. Steve replies, “What, so I’m still in training?” Afraid so, Smitty. Then again, so are your peers in Orlando (Dwight Howard), Miami (Michael Beasley) and Denver (Chauncey Billups) who have all signed hats, folded shirts and stuffed bags for a few hours across the country on behalf of the League’s new partnership with adidas and Champs.
If there is one good thing about this new job – well, besides the 20 percent off employee discount — is the fact that the ball players’ floor managers are pretty cool. In fact, the one in Atlanta even granted Josh and Steve a 15-minute break so they could answer a few of SLAM’s questions about the NBA, March Madness and handling a cash register.
SLAM: You’re doing more events like this around the city. Atlanta’s really starting to embrace you. How does that feel?
Josh Smith: It feels good. Not only me, but the rest of my teammates [are getting attention too]. It shows that the hard work we’ve been putting in on the court is finally paying off. We’re getting a lot of televised games. We’re getting a lot of appearances that we didn’t get a couple of years ago. The city is noticing the different players that are on the team. They’re down with the movement.
SLAM: What makes you and adidas such a good team?
JS: We’re a great team. I’ve been a part of adidas since I was 13, 14. I was able to be blessed to be sponsored by them when I got out of high school. That’s the only thing I pretty much know. I’ve been wearing adidas for pretty much all my life. We have a good chemistry. It’s like a family atmosphere. I know everybody from top to bottom. I met them all and we all have good relationships.
SLAM: As you know, we’re in the midst of March Madness. When this time hits, do you ever regret not making the college choice?
JS: Maybe before I made it to the Playoffs. But I don’t think there’s a greater feeling than playing in the [NBA] Playoffs. March Madness is a great time for college athletes. It’s fun for fans to be able to watch the games. But playing in the postseason in the NBA, you’re playing out your dream. You’re playing in front of a rowdy crowd every night. It’s definitely unbelievable. You can’t describe what it feels like unless you’re there.
SLAM: Where would you have gone had you attended school?
JS: I would have went to Indiana University when [coach] Mike Davis was there.
SLAM: Josh, where does last week’s game-winning dunk rank among your greatest highlights?
JS: It has to be at the top of the list. You wanna do good things when you’re at your job, whether you play basketball or are in the front office where you do hard work. I mean, you always want to have a game-winner under your belt, no matter what people say. Winning [championship] rings is definitely up there. Game-winners are definitely at the top of anybody’s list. Just to be able to do it in that fashion. We’d lost six straight against Orlando. To be able to lift my team and be able to get that monkey off our back felt great.
SLAM: I can only applaud you for the overall improvement in your game this year. What are you most proud of from this season’s performance?
JS: I’m proud of my decision making. I’ve been really taking my time. The game is really slowing down and I’m making the right decisions for my team. I’m showing my versatility and showing every aspect of my game. It’s paying off and it’s helping my team win. It’s definitely getting the recognition.
SLAM: Steve, why is the NBA’s partnership with Champs so important?
Steve Smith: It’s definitely important. Obviously, you sell gear here. But now you’re getting the chance for people in different cities to get their team gear, but you get a chance to shop for other NBA gear. And to partner up with adidas is just great. You see the smiles on the kids’ faces. For me, I’m a fan now. I get a chance to see the kids look at Josh Smith. For me to be a part of it [is great]. I love the game. Love everything about it. Josh Smith is my guy. We’re just having a good time.
SLAM: Nervous about getting behind the counter?
SS: Nah, I had a whole bunch of jobs when I was growing up. I know how to work behind the register a little bit. I’m looking forward to it. You gonna check out my skills?
SLAM: No doubt… OK, Steve, let’s talk about your school, Michigan State.
SS: Gotta love it!
SLAM: How proud are you of the Spartans this year?
SS: You know what? Tom Izzo is genuinely one of the best coaches out there. Obviously, everybody in Michigan who played for him knew it. Now people around the country are saying, “He just gets it done.”
SLAM: Did you honestly pick them for the Final Four?
SS: I always pick them for the Final Four. He’s going to get to the Final Four. He’s going to put in that work. He’s going to outwork everybody. He has his teams prepared. He starts a process from Day One when they come in. I call it “Training Camp.” And then there’s the [regular season] schedule he has. It makes it easy when you come down to [the NCAA Tournament]. The biggest thing is that his Xs and Os are great. The kids, be them from urban areas or the suburbs, he understands the game of life and basketball. And then, if you’re good people, good stuff is always going to happen to you. Now, getting to the Final Four, it puts him on that Mount Rushmore of college coaches. Getting to Monday and winning it, he might get to stick his chest out on that Mount Rushmore. I think he’s there now. I’m proud of him and I’ll be there [in Indianapolis].
Photos by Joe Briggs.