Marcus Smart is a 19 year-old Sophomore at Oklahoma State University. He is really good at the sport of basketball. From the start of his Freshman year through the midway point of this season, he scored points like I eat breakfast burritos — swiftly, prolifically, and with world-class ease. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game during his Freshman season with the Cowboys. Had he declared for the NBA Draft, he would’ve been a lottery pick. Instead, he stayed in school — a move that screamed maturity.
On November 19, 2013, Smart scored 39 points in a win over eleventh-ranked Memphis. And just like that, he was a first-team All-American and a candidate for National Player of the Year. And then it was confirmed game in and game out until the end of the December. Oklahoma State was 12-1 entering 2014, primed to be a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. But then Smart started playing lazy defense. And shooting inconsistently. Not coming through in the clutch. Flopping like a young LeBron James. His struggles contributed to Oklahoma State’s present four-game losing skid. Predictably, the critics have surfaced in droves.
And then on Saturday, February 8th, the Cowboys lost to the dead-mediocre Texas Tech Red Raiders. In the waning seconds of the game, Smart fell into the crowd after an attempted blocked shot. For a moment, he remained seated, clearly dejected. His team was about to lose its fourth straight game. He was about to hop on the bus, check his phone, and read through a collection of tweets from his haters. Behind Marcus stood one of those haters — a man named Jeff Orr. According to former Oklahoma State star John Lucas III, Jeff Orr is a renowned hater; he’s been in the business for a while. Standing five feet behind Smart, he wasn’t about to miss out on a prime hating opportunity. That’s a rookie move; Jeff Orr’s a veteran. So he said something. Something insulting.
We may never know for sure what he said. Orr claims he called Marcus a “piece of crap.” Smart intimates it was a two-syllable noun beginning with the letter ’n.’ Whatever it was, it upset the superstar guard. Smart grimaced, rose, and encroached upon the man. They exchanged words and Marcus shoved Orr’s left shoulder. The dude stumbled back a step, but didn’t fall. The lady standing next to Jeff dropped her jaw and pointed at Marcus as if she were in a pitch-black basement and didn’t want to lose track of him.
Oklahoma State lost the game by four points. Marcus was forced to apologize for his ostensible immaturity. Then, he was slapped with a three-game suspension.
Marcus should serve his three games. He should do some thinking. He can grow to regret his actions, while also fantasizing about fighting Jeff Orr in a back alley somewhere. Because let’s be honest: Jeff Orr is a dickhead, and sometimes dickheads get shoved.
But not in that context. Not by a college athlete on national television. That can’t happen; fan safety is too important. Remember Ron Artest?
Marcus Smart is the one labeled “pathetic” and “a disappointment,” even though those terms more accurately describe the middle-aged superfan who yells obscenities at 20 year-olds. Jeff Orr is the immature one. But he’s an overweight white dude, while Smart is a young African American with a superlative athletic ability. Consequently, the burden of proper behavior rests with Marcus. He’s the one who has to censor himself, but also the one who can rectify his public image through strong performances on the basketball court.
And he’ll realize that during his three-game suspension. And then, hopefully, he’ll wield his frustration as a motivational tool. He’ll start shooting consistently again. He’ll play more passionately on defense. He’ll come through in the clutch. He’ll stop flopping. He’ll lead Oklahoma State far into postseason play. He’ll be a March Madness hero. And 50 years from now, we’ll watch highlights of his awe-inspiring scoring ability without mention of the time he pushed an idiot’s shoulder.
Marcus, I’m on your side. But you messed up. Go earn your forgiveness by winning basketball games.