Mr. Smith

by October 30, 2008

by Matt Caputo
Former NBA big man Charles Smith kept playing well after his career ended. After spending eight years in the League, he went the corporate route and worked hard to help improve his hometown Bridgeport, Conn. While he never won a championship or played in an All-Star game, Smith maximized the benefits of being a former NBA player.

Originally drafted by the Sixers in 1986, Smith was instantly traded to the Clippers. He averaged 20 points in two of his first four seasons before being traded to the Knicks in exchange for Mark Jackson and Bo Kimble. In New York, he helped the Knickerbockers to the Playoffs. However, Smith’s otherwise solid career legacy was hurt considerably when he failed to nail one of four easy lay-ups in game five of the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals. Smith played his last season in 1996-97 with the Spurs, but he lives in New Jersey and is still active in the Knick community.

SLAM spoke to Smith as he took part in the KIA NBA TIP-OFF event in Union Square.

SLAM: So what have you been up to since you left the NBA?
Charles Smith: I’ve been out in the workplace. I ran a software company for about six years. Currently getting my Masters in management, finishing up over at Seton Hall University. I’ve worked as a regional representative for the NBA Players Association.

SLAM: What do you feel like your best year as pro was?
CS: Probably my first initial years at the Clippers, mainly because I was the captain and the leader of the ball club and when you’re in that position, you can pretty much let your creativity flow because you can shoot, nobody’s challenging the shots that you’re taking as long as you have a high percentage. Those are my better years–when I first started my career playing ball.

SLAM: You averaged 20 and a bunch of rebounds the first two years, you think you could have been an All-Star?
CS: Oh yeah. I missed the All-Star game one time mainly because you know, when you’re on a losing team they’re not too favorable on somebody scoring a lot of points on a losing team making the All-Star team. Yeah, I kind of had an opportunity and had it fly passed. But I had a good career.

SLAM: What were your favorite years playing with the Knicks, being that you’re from Bridgeport?
CS: When we were the Eastern Conference champs, one of the big games was when we beat Indiana. That Indiana series was tough with the Davis boys and Rick Smits and those guys, that was a tough series. So winning that series was one of the better wins at the garden.

SLAM: The University of Pittsburgh program looks strong this year, you excited about them?
CS: I caught up with those guys when they came in town for the Big East media day, they’re looking pretty good. They got a good nucleus, they got a good coach, they’re kinda small but they play hard and they know each other, so I’m looking for big things from them.

SLAM: What was the best thing you think the NBA exposed for you?
CS: That’s a very good question. You asked me the question, I’m thinking of a lot. Overall, I didn’t go through my career with blinders on, so if guys don’t do that, you get exposed to so much with life after basketball if you pay attention. I got exposed to see how teams ran their marking departments, I got exposed to see how different teams ran their organizations, I had the opportunity to play in a major market with a losing team with the Clippers and a major with a great team, New York, a small market with a really good team and management in San Antonio, and everybody does it differently, so when guys don’t get traded and they don’t see an entire scope of the NBA life then you have a mild view of how it is and you really don’t grow. It afforded me the opportunity to meet a ton of people and for me to develop personally as an individual.

SLAM: How do you feel you will be remembered by NBA fans? Does it matter to you?
CS: Yes, it matters how people remember you. But more importantly, it matters how my family knows, I have four boys, how I took the challenge of my career, how I went through my career, through the ups and downs and how I continued after my career.

SLAM: I know you’re heavily involved in Bridgeport’s Boys and Girls club.
CS: I have my own foundation in Bridgeport. I’ve had it going on 20 years now for families and children. All these years later, when I walk around and I see somebody twenty years old saying “I went to your organization and here’s how you helped me and my family” that’s very gratifying.

SLAM: What’s your alternate goal now that you’re in school? Where do you see yourself going?
CS: I’ve been constantly, I don’t stop, just like I approached my career in basketball, I approached my personal development and my business life. I’m trying to create a certain value for myself; create value so that I’m more marketable to organizations and corporations. That’s what I’m doing, working for the PA has been great, working for the players. I’ve been out there in business, done a lot of entrepreneurial things. I’ve been voted to the Top 40 Under 40 entrepreneurs in New Jersey. The Top 30 Under 30 with another organization and I’m steadily pushing. At the end of the day, I still want to build my value to run a department, to run an organization that doesn’t have to be sports.

SLAM: What do you think your best moment in the NBA was, on the floor?
CS: Probably, I’ll always have the experience and that feeling of making the Playoffs for the first time with the Knicks. But me personally, probably when I scored 54 against Denver because you don’t realize it until after your career’s over. All those guys who score over 50, they’re guards. I don’t know how many there are, but there are very few power forwards and centers who score over 50 points.

SLAM: What do you remember about that night?
CS: That I couldn’t miss! I remember that and I remember there was like three minutes to go in the game and I remember the bench, we were up by you know 15, 20, the game was over and I remember the bench, the guys yelling to me “Shoot! Shoot!” and I’m like what are they talking about? Nobody said anything to me and it was because I could have broke the record.

SLAM: What did you feel like you brought to the court every night when you were in the NBA?
CS: You know what? Everybody has their own thing that they bring to the game and they bring to the team, I look back at my career and nobody can say I wasn’t the consummate team player. Every coach that I had–that was a good and bad about my career. This coach says you’re gonna be a center or back up center, and this coach says you can play small forward, this coach says you can play power forward, this coach says you can defend some of the guards. I moved around so much that I always fit into the club. I think maybe when I look back, if I would have stuck to my guns and said I’m a power forward, I only want to play power forward, maybe I would have lasted longer, but not. But that’s what I’ve always been. Everybody I played with can always say if coach asked me “can you do this?” I’d always do it.