He remembers the spoon being tossed into the metal sink at 4:30 a.m. Keith Smart’s father had finished his coffee and was leaving for work in Baton Rouge, La. Another day had begun, and for a boy, so had an understanding of what life was all about.
Now that he has his dream job, now that Smart is coach of the very NBA team that drafted him, the Warriors, he says he has no need for gifts this holiday season.
He thinks about his father’s long hours as a truck driver. He thinks about the way his mother never let on about a debilitating illness. They didn’t complain. Why should he complain?
“I never thought I’d he here,” Smart said of the position. “It’s my Christmas, my birthday, all my presents wrapped up in one. I got cut by the Warriors, come back as an assistant and then all of a sudden get named coach. I’m in heaven.”
The Warriors play Portland on Saturday night, Christmas night. At home. Joy to the world.
“It’s different this time,” said the 46-year-old Smart, who’s spent so much time on the road. And he smiles. Smart always smiles.
“I never have a bad day,” he said, even though the Warriors have lost nine of 11. “I don’t have time for a bad day. I have to fight every day to make sure I have a good day.”
To Smart, the ghosts of Christmases past are reminders of a career during which after a single season, 1988-89, playing in the NBA, for the San Antonio Spurs, he had been everywhere — Europe, South America, Asia.
“I was going to play basketball as long as I could,” Smart said. “One year, I was playing in France, and for Christmas I set up a little deal to go to Paris with my wife. It’s snowing. Everything is perfect, like a picture.
“We look in the papers for a hotel. It turns out to be a dive, the worst hotel possible, and we can’t get another room, I said to my wife, ‘Honey, we’re in Paris. Enjoy it.’”
Which they did, even the mad sprint through six lanes of traffic at Etoile, to reach the Arc de Triomphe, only to learn later there’s a pedestrian tunnel under streets.
“Another Christmas,” Smart said, “I’m playing for a French team up near Lille. My wife orders a turkey from a butcher. He wraps it up, and she brings it home. She opens it up. I hear a scream. The turkey still has the head on it. We didn’t have a knife.”
At Indiana University, Smart, of course, played for Bobby Knight, the college coach with the most victories in college basketball. With the Warriors, Smart assisted Don Nelson, the coach with the most NBA victories.
“I learned how to teach the game,” he said.
He knew how to win the game, hit a jumper at the Superdome to beat Syracuse 74-73 in the 1987 NCAA championship game. It was his moment. It was a moment for many others, of which Smart is aware.
“When people meet me,” Smart explained, “I’m not going to tell them I don’t have time to talk about the shot. If they brought it up, it must mean something to them. You don’t want to take away their joy.”
No one takes away Keith Smart’s.
“I can’t let my family, my team see me down,” he said. “I’ve got to get ready for the next situation.”
Be it a turkey with a head or Portland on a Christmas night.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.