If you’ve ever had an issue with the relentless media surrounding New York sports, it probably has a lot to do with the endless stirring of controversy — even when things are going well — or the way that small things are so often manufactured into larger ones. For my money, you couldn’t find an article more emblematic of this frustration than this little beauty from Marc Berman in today’s New York Post in regard to J.R. Smith:
Smith’s dark side is tough to explain. He was raised middle class, in Lakewood, N.J., by two attentive parents in Earl and Ida Smith. Earl Smith, a former Monmouth guard, taught J.R. everything about shooting technique. Earl also doesn’t have a tattoo on his body.
Some in the league wonder if Smith’s tough-guy behavior is an act to relate to the NBA’s hip-hop crowd. He is such a vital cog to the machine that the Knicks organization accepts Smith for who he is and desperately wants to re-sign him.
As much as Mike Woodson has toned him down and got him to stop wearing “sagging jeans’’ to the arena, the Knicks coach hasn’t completed the job. Smith still is the most likeliest Knick to start a brawl in these playoffs.
Woodson loves Smith’s toughness, but there’s a difference between being tough and being a hooligan.
Yeesh. All right, Berman. I’ll take the bait.
Let’s start by saying that, yes, Smith’s elbow of Jason Terry in Game 3 was regrettable. It was wholly unnecessary, opened him up to the eventual suspension and potentially cost the team a chance at a sweep and some well-earned rest. In the playoffs, you want to put teams away when you have the chance, there’s really no reason to unnecessarily make the job more difficult. And no, it didn’t make a total amount of sense, with J.R. just randomly unable to resist the urge to pop Terry in the face, perhaps he just really doesn’t like that face.
That being said, this honestly feels like a column written from twenty years ago. I mean, what do Smith’s “sagging jeans” and penchant for tattoos have ANYTHING to do with what we’re discussing here. You know who else has a lot of tattoos? EVERYONE ELSE IN THE LEAGUE! Seriously, look around the NBA and you may find one guy foregoing the allure of decorative body ink. His name is Steve Novak. Smith’s good friend, for what it’s worth.
Naturally, what seems to make it all the more disappointing to Berman is that Smith grew up middle class. To think, a child of means growing up to like hip-hop? Gasp! The horror!
If you want to know why people have so taken to Smith, despite all his foibles, it is precisely because there is an authenticity about the guy. He’s not a product. His persona is not manufactured. Yes, he probably has more fun than would be prudent. The team would likely love it if he got a few extra winks on any given evening. But that’s not who he is, and frankly, it’s refreshing. In an era when every athlete is afraid to reveal anything, it’s nice to have a genuine character. A wild card. For me, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature.
Which isn’t to say you can’t be critical of Smith. For sure, there’s issues with his shot selection, his effort and, yes, his conduct, but this is just the worst the New York press has to offer, all innuendo and nonsense without a hint of nuance or real insight.