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FMR Spartan and NBA Great Steve Smith is Still One Class Act


Smith remains a pillar in the Spartan Nation with his character and integrity.  Photo courtesy of Steve Rothwell.

Smith remains a pillar in the Spartan Nation with his character and integrity. Photo courtesy of Steve Rothwell.

America knows Steve Smith as a fourteen-year NBA veteran who now stays close to the game as a broadcaster. He is known as one of the best “Guys” in any professional sports and is well respected.


For the Spartan Nation he is known as one of ours. He is still the unassuming star, proud of his Michigan State roots and always the good guy. I recently caught up with this Spartan great. He is coming back to Michigan once again as a philanthropist. Steve is hosting three of his Steve Smith Charity Challenge golf outings to give back by raising money for the Steve Smith scholarship fund.


When you meet ‘Smitty’ you quickly learn that unlike many stars the genuine smile and character that fans love from the court is as real when the cameras are off and the crowds disappear. The man whose philanthropic work built the state of the art Clara Bell Smith center is still the same young man who stepped on campus back in the fall of 1987 wide eyed and nervous. Through all of his success, he is still one of our own, still smiling and most importantly still humble.


“I guess that humility you mention comes from my mom and dad. When I was young I was so confused. I used to hear a lot of people in my neighborhood call my mother mom. As I got older I realized that she was that neighborhood mom. On weekends they would take me to the mission to hand out food. As I got older I understood. They gave me an opportunity long before I had the success that really none of us could have dreamed at the time to give back. Now that I have had success, giving back isn’t something I had to learn, I am so blessed that they taught me that,” was how Smith answered my question about his commitment to giving back and his humility in doing it.


It is humorous how today’s modern athletes give back once TMZ or the National Enquirer find them involved in the latest celebrity scandal. For Smith it is part of who he is. He is unassuming and as I watch him often at Spartan sporting events I feel for him as he greets each person asking for a moment of his free time or an autograph as if they are the most important person in the world.


So many athletes play long after they should. Long after their skills are diminished and they are an embarrassment to their legacy. Not Smith. I asked him about walking away from basketball with gas in the tank. He challenged my thought that he walked away from the game. “I do have some gas in the tank, but you are wrong. I never walked away from the game of basketball. I love the game. I couldn’t walk away. I did walk away from the NBA. I still play all the time. Guys like Kevin Willis and I along with others still play on Saturday’s. I still go back to MSU and play. I always kid Kalin, Summers and Green. Steigenga and me can beat them. I still play like I always did in school or the NBA, for the love of it. I still compete with my kids and the game has given me so much, it is a duty to give back.”


Today Smith makes the transition from star to elder statesman of the game. He spends his time giving back financially from wealth he earned and protected. He gives back his time which is every bit as important as the money he has donated; Steve Smith is a true role model.


“I don’t need much. I need a big screen TV to watch basketball, some shoes and a place to sleep and eat. I never did need much. I had a great lawyer and people that helped me. I am simple. I really watched Magic and he is really my role model. He has fame, he has wealth and he never had bodyguards. He is in the stands. He never had to be someone around MSU that he wasn’t. I loved that and wanted to be and I hope I am like that.”

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The list of stars that have played sports at MSU is long. The list who have went on to stardom is not as long, but still impressive. The list of stars that are true role models is one that is rather short. Smith has to be near the top of the MSU list.


“I look at my life and I can’t not give back. I am truly blessed. The one thing I say all the time about the game of basketball is because of a round ball I got to travel the world. I got to go to a great University. You can’t disrespect the game. It is done so much for so many. It really makes me upset to see people who the game has given so much to and disrespect the game.” Being the man of character and integrity that Smith is, disrespect to anything, people or the game has never happened.


Besides the fame and the money, I asked Smith for another example of how the game blessed him. His answer shocked me. “It broke the race barrier for me.” His answer shocked me. “My college roommate was from the UP and I was from Detroit. We had to learn to get along. We were so totally different people. He is my friend for life and was in my wedding. It isn’t just about the NBA or the money, I tell people all the time, what is a degree worth? What is that college experience worth?”


 Smith blasts the stigma of dumb jock. He is a brilliant businessman and one of the most intelligent people in any room he walks into. Sure an education from MSU helps, but so is the way he was raised and experiences he has had and more importantly learned from. He told me of one of the moments that hit him. In fact he called it, “An incredible learning experience.” What was it? “My dad drove a Detroit city bus for 37 years. He summed it up best. I had just signed and I signed a small Reebok endorsement deal. When I showed it to him he told me that it would have taken him 15 years of wages driving that bus to make what I did just by agreeing to wear Reebok shoes. Right then I knew that I had to give back. I had to do something.”


So does Smith like the attention he gets for his post NBA philanthropy? “No not at all. I just want others to give back. I really think I would call it a Midwest thing. We aren’t proud of ourselves up here. We aren’t impressed. We are proud of our way of life here more than any one person.”


Smith can’t get away from Michigan. The NBA and basketball have taken him all over the country and the world, but the reason Smith remains one of the good guys is because he may have taken the man from Michigan, but you haven’t taken Michigan out of him. “If you come to my suites at MSU for sporting events you will see my family. The same friends from day one. The same attorney, the same accountant all of the same people are still around me. MSU and Michigan and I guess me and how I think are about family, it is about being loyal. I love Michigan State and I love to give back. You have to remember that as much as I give back, and I hope it will be a lot more, I will never give back what I have gotten. That is humbling.”


Not everyone can give the millions that Smith has done, but each and every member of the Spartan Nation can do something. Smith will be back this summer to play golf and for a small price you can meet this Spartan Nation legend. Make plans now to meet and join Steve on the golf course June 29 at the Country Club of Lansing. Join others as you join Steve giving back to his beloved state of Michigan. Registration is at 8 a.m.


Smith may not take another NBA shot. He will never sink another jumper from the corner for a big Spartan win. What he is doing now is even more important. What he is doing now isn’t about basketball. It is about changing lives. It is about the endless quest of a humble man whose sees his life through the eyes of a giving man. He comes from a place of humility without an ounce of entitlement.


Steve Smith today is doing more to make the Spartan Nation proud than his 2,263 career points ever did on the court. One thing is for sure, ‘Smitty’ is still making all the right moves.