I am not going to defend Marcus Smart, but I do understand how and why it all went down Saturday night at Texas Tech.
Smart should not have pushed Jeff Orr. He should have been suspended three games.
So many forget in their zeal to back their teams that teenagers or just-past teenagers are far from finished life products. That they have earned a college scholarship to play basketball is all we really know about most of them. We see them on the court. Somehow, they become just players, but not people.
I don’t know Smart or much about Oklahoma State’s program. I do know he would have been a lottery pick last year, but chose to stay in school.
I remember a Big 5 player in a similar situation a few years ago. He chose to come back to play. After that season, his coach told me the player had held him and his team hostage the entire season, dangling the fact that he decided to come back to play for the team over them. The coach was powerless, the player enabled and the team underachieved.
Smart, 19, had been acting out recently. His play had fallen off. His team, 15-2 on Jan. 15, was about to be 16-7 when Smart went careening into the stands.
Then, Orr called him at least “a piece of crap.” The woman to Orr’s right started clapping real fast in Smart’s face, essentially taunting him, reminding him his team was about to lose.
Smart pushed Orr. Again, wrong. No defense. But I thought his reaction was human. It all had built up to the moment and he lost it.
Nobody was injured. No lives were altered. No lasting damage was done.
There was, shockingly, an immediate overreaction. ESPN, that master of understatement, immediately went wall-to-wall Smart Shove on its Saturday night “SportsCenter,” ignoring the NBA, the rest of college hoops and the start of the Winter Olympics, which, of course, was on that network owned by Comcast.
A good friend who works at ESPN told me a few years ago that he had been told if he did not have a story that involved Tiger, A-Rod, Brett Favre, Kobe, LeBron and a few others, don’t bother. They want to cover what sells.
Well, Marcus Smart was selling, at least until Michael Sam came out the next day.
Orr is an air-traffic controller. Remind me to find out whether he works at DFW and, if so, to check out his shift when I fly in and out of Dallas for the Final Four in April. I might ask to be diverted.
Orr is also a buffoon, emblematic of the middle-aged fan who yells at college kids and officials and who knows what else away from the court. I have watched bozos like him for decades. I never understood them. I still don’t.
Put fans such as Orr in the same space as an athlete feeling the heat and you get Smartgate. This is 2014. We really should be better than this.
Why not just go to the game, cheer for your team, admire the athletes and go home?