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Smart uses troubled past as motivation

Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart

LONDON • Marcus Smart has always defied statistics. The Boston Celtics guard is one of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) great conundrums because it seems that the worse he shoots, the better his team perform.

"It's a freak," he says, but to gain an understanding of why the 23-year-old has become one of the league's most intense competitors, one must rewind back.

Life was not easy growing up in Flower Mound, Texas. When he was nine, his oldest brother was taken by leukaemia. Todd fought the disease until it spread to his lungs and stomach when he was 33.

Before the diagnosis, he was a talented player who had acted as the principal guiding voice to Marcus and his two other siblings.

Marcus' shirt number, 36, is a tribute to Todd - three being his number, six being the number the former was drafted in 2014 - and one of the tattoos on his right arm reads: "Todd, rest in peace."

Around the time of Todd's passing, two relatives had been shot dead - one five years old, another 16 - and Smart's near-death experience would soon follow.

One afternoon in south Dallas, Smart and a friend started throwing rocks at passers-by. One of them struck a gang member who gave chase.

INFLUENCE ON THE GAME

The real story is more that we have a better chance of winning when I am on the court than when I am off it... I take that as a compliment.

MARCUS SMART, Boston Celtics guard, on his ability to lead his team to victory whether he shoots well or poorly.

As the teenagers fled, Smart looked behind and noticed that the man had a loaded gun. A number of shots were fired but they missed and the pair escaped.

That became the tipping point. Smart says that being in London for the first time for an NBA game against the Philadelphia 76ers is "a blessing".

"I still use it as a motivation every day," Smart, who scored five points and made three steals in under 23 minutes against the Sixers on Friday, says of his childhood. "But I also haven't accomplished what I really want to accomplish yet."

This is his third year in the league - the season where many players are coming to the end of their rookie deals and must impress their franchises enough to either earn a new contract or at least prove their worth to be picked up as a free agent.

He is doing everything to ensure that a big-money deal awaits when his US$15 million (S$19.8 million) contract runs out at the end of next season. He is averaging 9.8 points, 4.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game this season, with the Celtics (34-10) leading the Eastern Conference.

After losing the curtain-raiser against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics embarked on a 16-game winning streak.

And they have kept going, beating the Cavaliers this month after coming back from 26 points down to defeat the Houston Rockets, one of the Western Conference powerhouses, 99-98.

Smart played a starring role in that game, forcing James Harden, a leading candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player award, into two late offensive fouls.

He bristles when it is put to him that his team's record is 15-2 in games where he shoots 30 per cent or under and 16-8 when he scores more than 30 per cent.

"The real story is more that we have a better chance of winning when I am on the court than when I am off it," he says.

"I take that as a compliment. I can shoot the ball well or poorly and we still have a chance to win, so that speaks a lot about me and how I affect the game.

"How many guys do you know who can shoot under 30 per cent and still win with other things that they do? It's very rare that you see that, I'm a unique person."

Some might call him a statistical anomaly.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Smart uses troubled past as motivation'. Print Edition | Subscribe