BOSTON (CBS) — Marcus Smart is about to begin a new chapter in his life, one that he is honored to be a part of.
When the Celtics selected Smart sixth overall in June’s NBA draft, he immediately thought of all the banners hanging in the TD Garden, and hopes to add to Boston’s history some day.
“The tradition here, this is the best franchise in the league with 17 banners and the most retired jerseys. It’s crazy and it’s an honor to be a part of this franchise,” Smart told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Rich Shertenlieb at Celtics Media Day on Monday.
But the road to success was a bumpy one for Smart. He struggled with anger growing up in the Lancaster, Texas, a Dallas suburb riddled with gang violence (The Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes had a wonderful piece on Smart’s early life over the weekend). He lost his older brother Todd, who was a father figure and taught a young Marcus how to be a man, in 2004 after a long battle with cancer. Smart was suspended from school after numerous fights, and had to go an alternative education program, which he said was more like a prison.
But through it all, Smart said his early struggles have just made him stronger.
“It was extremely tough, especially when you look up to your brother and he’s doing some of the things you’re trying to stay away from. You just lost an older brother, and most of your friends are doing what you know isn’t right. It’s real hard,” he explained.
“I think everything happened for a reason, and I wake up and thank God for that every day for that,” Smart said. “He’s put a lot of obstacles in my way to test me for this part of my life. I know I have a lot more coming.”
Smart had a big wake-up moment one night when some boyhood fun could have cost him his life.
“Me and my friend one night were throwing rocks at people and cars. We hit a guy on a bike and he pulled out his gun and started firing at us. The next day I was outside with my brother and the guy walks up – I remember because he was wearing the same black hoodie. He walked up to my brother and shook his hand, and I just dropped the ball. I didn’t tell him until a couple of years later, but I found out that he and my brother were cool and part of the bloods.
“That was the moment, that night,” he said. “My life flashed before my eyes.”
Smart said his brother became upset with him when he revealed the story a few years later, but he also broke down and cried.
“He realized it was something he could have probably prevented,” said Smart.
Instead of turning to the violence that surrounded him, Smart turned to sports. He played both football and basketball, which he explained was a way for him to release any built-up anger.
His focus shifted to basketball after Todd — a local legend on the hardwood — passed away. And while there are times when his temper may surface, Smart thinks back to the lessons his older brother taught him.
“Everybody has times of frustration where you just want to break down. I’ve had times like that, but I try to think ‘if my brother was here, what would he do? How would he want me to act?’ I’m not here to act that way, those are signs of a child,” he said. “I’m a young adult and that’s what I want to carry myself as.”
Now, Smart is ready to begin his life in the NBA. With Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo likely missing time early in the season with a broken hand, the rookie could have a big role with the team just as his career begins. There’s a good chance he’s the starting point guard when the Celtics tip-off the 2014-15 season against the Brooklyn Nets on October 29, but the 20-year-old isn’t focused on opening night just yet.
“I haven’t thought about that. I’m still thinking about Rondo. He’s the leader of this team and an unbelievable athlete and player. To hear we’ll be without our captain is hard to take in,” he said. “I’ve just been in the gym earning and earning respect from these guys, getting chemistry together as a team.”
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