Marcus Smart wheeled and stood eye to eye with a Texas Tech fan late Saturday night. It was a kid yelling at an adult and a kid putting his hands on that adult, shoving him backward while consequently knocking a female fan off-balance.
It was a kid smothered by the pressure of a spiraling season, out of control and out of his senses.
There's no excuse for it, no matter what idiocy may have filled his ears, and the Oklahoma State guard will be disciplined, while an ugly incident tracks him for the rest of his basketball life.
Whatever penance is paid in college and NBA arenas will make whatever the Big 12 does seem merciful. But right now Oklahoma State doesn’t seem capable of saving Marcus Smart from himself. So the best thing that can happen for both is the league suspending Smart for multiple games -- start with two, but no one could argue if commissioner Bob Bowlsby doled out a harsher punishment.
This isn't the first time this season that Smart hasn't be able to control his emotions. Late last month Smart kicked a chair and then apologized via Twitter for losing his composure, promising it wouldn’t happen again. It happened again. Smart needed to be separated from a fan, and now he needs to be separated from the frustration of five losses in six games fused with his own boiled-over emotions. A Big 12 spokesman confirmed the league will review the incident "in accordance with the Big 12's Sportsmanship Policy."
Let’s parcel out the indignation appropriately here: Coach Travis Ford and Oklahoma State seemingly have no clue how to manage Smart and help him regulate his passion. He kicked that chair during a game against West Virginia on Jan. 25 after picking up a second first-half foul and he has been dogged as a flopper and a complainer. To say the Cowboys should have seen the shoving incident coming is ridiculous, of course. But it happened, which suggests a program incapable of getting through to its best player or unwilling to take a hard line. Even in a heated moment with no definitive information about what happened, someone on Oklahoma State’s bench needed to get Smart to the locker room with 6.2 seconds remaining in the game to prevent a bad situation from turning worse. Instead, Smart sat and stewed and yelled while Texas Tech fans stormed the court and everyone held their breath about what could come next. And for what purpose? Oklahoma State seems at the mercy of Marcus Smart, and that is a very bad way to be.
And then there is the man who Smart shoved, a fan named Jeff Orr who has even been promoted by Texas Tech. During the game, Orr screamed at a kid when the kid was literally down -- Smart had fallen to the floor after committing a foul on a transition opportunity for the Red Raiders. If it comes out that Orr merely said something obnoxious in that moment, his fate should be the same as Smart’s: An extended break from the vicinity of any Texas Tech athletic event.
If it comes out that Orr dropped a slur -- something ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb reported that Orr denied in a text exchange with a friend -- then he needs to be informed he’s not welcome in the building for the rest of his years. A complete disassociation from Texas Tech athletics is the only recourse in those circumstances. As much as a suspension for Smart reestablishes what is and isn’t acceptable player behavior, some action from Texas Tech can set a bar for how fans must comport themselves, even if it’s a symbolic gesture at best.
There's no excuse for Smart's misstep. This wasn’t an overheated gym at an AAU tournament, this wasn’t the afternoon run on an asphalt court at the park. Athletes know they’re going to hear nasty stuff. Their charge is to walk away and quiet the noise with their performance on the court or on the field. The alternative? As Tulsa World columnist John Hoover noted, Smart arguably committed a crime Saturday under Texas law, an act that could be categorized as misdemeanor assault. That’s an extreme interpretation but also a worthy context: What Smart did is no alternative at all, no matter what some rube in the stands spewed his way.
Smart will pay for it soon, via Big 12 discipline, and he’ll pay for it later via hostile crowds with internet connections and long memories. He was a kid who lost himself again Saturday. He had to be separated from a fan, and now he has to be separated from the game, a brilliant but overheated player given time to breathe and time to consider how to find his way back to normal.