It’s a safe bet that 99 percent of us will never be enshrined in a Hall of Fame of any kind. Steve Smith belongs to three: the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, and now the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.
On the strength of his impressive résumé — standout basketball star at Detroit Pershing High School, second all-time leading scorer at Michigan State, first-round NBA draft choice, 14-year pro, and Olympic gold medalist — Smith was inducted last month at the Max M. Fisher Music Center.
With a string of accomplishments like those, he could be forgiven for wondering what took the state hall so long. But Smith, one of classiest gentlemen in sports — and one of its hardest-working TV analysts — says it’s the “little goals” he cherishes.
“I was 5-foot-9 when I started at Pershing,” says Smith, 43, of the school whose hardcourt is now named after him. “You’re playing JV and hope you get to play varsity. I played point guard. I left Michigan State at 6-foot-8. Now being a point guard at 6-foot-8 gave me a little advantage.”
Smith’s career highlights include his 2003 NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs and his 2000 Olympic medal. “There’s not a lot of guys who get the chance to do both,” he says.
But Smith is proudest of what he calls “Mom’s center” — the Clara Bell Smith Student Athlete Academic Support Center at MSU. It’s named for his late mother and financed in part by his $2.5 million donation — the largest gift by a professional athlete to any college or university — and the Steve Smith Scholarship Fund he established in 1999 at Pershing to send one outstanding senior to MSU each fall for four years.
Smith entered the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in outstanding company. Also inducted this year were Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy; Lions All-Pro tackle Lomas Brown; two-time NCAA women’s basketball champion Pam McGee; longtime University of Michigan diving coach Dick Kimball; pro hockey great Mark Howe; U-M football and track legend Tyrone Wheatley; and Smith’s fellow MSU alum and NCAA basketball titlist Mateen Cleaves.
“The class is just unbelievable,” Smith says. “Tony Dungy is a guy I always looked up to growing up, and Mateen and I are close.”
With March Madness about to get under way and the NBA playoffs looming, Smith, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Millie, and their sons Brayden, 13, and Davis, 11, may be moving faster than he did on the court.
He’s in his fifth season as a studio analyst for NBA TV, covers the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for Turner and CBS, and appears regularly to lend his insights to the Big Ten Network. In one recent week, he flew from Atlanta to the Big Ten studios in Chicago twice in three days to satisfy his commitments.
Not that he’s complaining, you understand. “I learned this from my dad (Donald, who accompanied the family from Atlanta to attend the induction),” Smith says. “He drove a bus 37 years in Detroit and worked a second job. He taught me hard work pays off. I went to the NBA and had a dream job, and now I get to do a second dream job. How can I complain? I get to sit down, watch sports, tell my opinion, and somebody pays me for it. You can’t get better than that.
“When I’m home, it’s all about family. I say I’m probably going to be in the Hall of Fame for carpool dad, because that’s my best job.”