Jon Teitel's Interview Series: Pittsburgh Legend Charles Smith
Jon Teitel: In 1984 you were named a McDonald's All-American. Which of your fellow high school seniors impressed you the most (Danny Manning, Chris Washburn, other)?
Charles D. Smith: Washburn; if he did not end up having so many off-court problems, he would have been a game-changing player. He had great size, he could bring the ball up the court, he was as fast as anyone else on the court, and was very aggressive.
JT: In 1985 you were named Big East Rookie of the Year. How were you able to come in as a freshman and contribute from the start?
CS: We were just trying to establish our school's prominence, and we had a good class that came in. We were able to come in and be impact players right away, as the offense was constructed to showcase our abilities.
1986 Goodwill Games
JT: You had a one-point win over Puerto Rico thanks to a late basket from David Robinson. Did you ever fear that you were going to lose or were you confident throughout the game?
CS: We took it game by game, but never thought we were going to lose. We had different guys step up at different times. Coach Lute Olson instilled so much confidence in me that I thought we could beat anybody.
JT: You scored 17 points in a four-point loss to Argentina. How did the international competition compare to the college guys you played against?
CS: The international guys were bigger and stronger, and everyone said we were outmatched despite the fact that the USA basketball team had always won the Goodwill Games in the past.
JT: You scored 18 points in a win over Canada. How did your team get back on track after the loss to Argentina?
CS: Robinson was in foul trouble, so Lute put me in at center. He told me to take jump shots from the top of the key because they played off me and left me open, so I did, and I made several of them.
JT: You had a nine-point win over Yugoslavia, who was led by future Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic. Could you tell at the time that Drazen Petrovic was going to become a star?
CS: I did not know a lot about him at the time but the crowd was into it every time he touched he ball, as he was a powerful force. We did not pay much attention to any specific players during scouting, but just focused on the teams as a whole.
JT: You beat Brazil (who was led by legendary 5-time Olympian Oscar Schmidt) in the semifinals. Could you tell at the time that Oscar Schmidt was going to become a star?
CS: He was already a star at that point and a very emotional player. I saw him in the Pan Am Games the following year when he had 53 points in a game. Both Derrick McKey and I had to smother Schmidt, as we could not let him catch and shoot it.
JT: You scored 17 points in a two-point win over the USSR (legendary 5-time European Player of the Year Arvydas Sabonis had 16 points) in the gold medal game in Madrid. How was your team able to get it done?
CS: We were down by seventeen at the half, so we tried to come out in the 2nd half and get back in the game. We would start leaking out on the break when the USSR put up a shot, which helped us get right back in the game. The key to our comeback was a loose ball situation in the 2nd half when 5'3" Muggsy Bogues jumped over the 7'2" Sabonis and tipped the ball ahead to a teammate for a lay-up. We saw how hard Muggsy was working, so we all started playing harder.
JT: You had a roster full of players who were the best fantasy players from their respective schools (Sean Elliott, David Robinson, etc.). What are your favorite memories of that team?
CS: Most of my memories are with my teammates off the court: hanging out after practice, shopping, etc. We handled our business on the court even though nobody thought we would win. Even back then, we all kind of knew that Robinson would go on to greatness.
JT: In 1987 you said you were "80% sure" that you would turn pro, but you chose to return to school. Why were you going to turn pro, and why did you end up changing your mind?
CS: My academic advisor asked me what I was going to do, and when I told her I was thinking about going pro, she told me to come in and talk to her. We talked about the opportunity to graduate and enjoy my senior year. My major was Communications, and she said it made sense for me to get my degree; she was a deciding factor. It worked out well for me, as I was the 1st one in my family to graduate from college.
JT: In 1988 you were named Big East Player of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor, and did it validate your decision to stay in school?
CS: I did not realize that I was the first unanimous Big East Player of the Year in a long time, which I thought was fantastic.
1988 Summer Olympics
JT: You scored two points in a six-point loss to the USSR (Arvydas Sabonis had 13 points and 13 rebounds after being sidelined for 18 months with an Achilles' heel injury) in the semifinals, the second-ever loss for Team USA in Olympic basketball competition. How crushing was that loss, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
CS: It was a very dark loss; a tough blow to stomach. We had lost Hersey Hawkins (our main outside threat) to a knee injury, so Dan Majerle became our key perimeter shooter.
JT: You scored 10 points against Australia to win the bronze medal. Did you consider your run in the Olympics to be a success (due to winning a bronze medal) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)?
CS: We all saw it as a failure but did not want to go out without a medal. Even after we won the game, no one celebrated.
JT: You had a roster full of players who were the best fantasy players from their respective schools (Stacey Augmon, Hersey Hawkins, Danny Manning, David Robinson, etc.). Do you think you lost to the USSR with all that talent due to coaching, or officiating, or the fact that Team USA eventually had to lose a game in the Olympics?
CS: The USSR was just a good team; they had three guys who either played or could have played in the NBA.
JT: What was it like playing with a teammate with the same name (Charles E Smith IV, who was named Big East Player of the Year the following year [at Georgetown])?
CS: It was tough for me all through college, as people would confuse me with him and think I went to Georgetown.
JT: In the summer of 1988 you were drafted third overall by Philadelphia (2 spots ahead of your Olympic teammate Mitch Richmond), but then immediately traded to the Clippers for Olympic teammate Hersey Hawkins. Were you thrilled to get drafted so high or stunned to get traded the same night?
CS: I was excited to go to Philly and play with Charles Barkley, but I was too young to understand the business of the NBA. The Clippers already had a young big man in Danny Manning, so I was not thrilled about the trade.
JT: You averaged 14.4 ppg and 1.4 bpg during your nine-year NBA career. Was there any specific highlight or proudest moment?
CS: I remember a string of 30-point games I had with the Clippers that was pretty good.
JT: In 1989 you founded the Charles D. Smith Foundation and Educational Center. How long had you wanted to make this dream come true, and what has it accomplished?
CS: It was not a lifelong dream, but people from my hometown of Bridgeport often called me to help underprivileged kids or give talks, so I bought a building where kids could come and find a safe place.
JT: In 1990 you scored a career-high 52 points (17-27 FG, 18-21 FT) in 37 minutes in a win over Denver. Was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were "in the zone", and where does that rank among your career highlights?
CS: Nobody told me that I had tied the franchise record for points in a game with four minutes left in the game; otherwise I would have scored a lot more. It was a case of just making the right decisions: I was driving to the basket and shooting jump shots and making free throws.
JT: In 1993 you missed four straight point-blank shots for New York in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago. Do you feel you could have done anything differently, and where does that rank among your career lowlights?
CS: You win a lot of games and lose a lot of games. That play ranks as one of the lowlights of my career, but I could not have done anything different. I gained some measure of satisfaction by playing well in Game 6 in Chicago (14 points), which helped a lot. Someone compared it to Kirk Gibson's famous homer in the 1988 World Series (it came in Game 1, but the media made it sound like it clinched the entire series). It was a tough loss, but I was able to bounce back.
JT: In 1994 you made the NBA Finals with New York, and had 10 points in a six-point loss to Houston in Game 7. Did you consider your playoff run a success (due to making the finals) or a failure (due to getting so close but not winning it all)?
CS: That was a lowlight too, as we worked really hard to get there and just came up short.
JT: In 1997 you retired due to knee injuries. Did you feel frustrated that you could not go out on your own terms, or satisfied that you had a nice long career?
CS: No one is satisfied when they are getting pushed out of the game: it is just a dark reality for professional athletes.
JT: After retiring from the NBA you ran a software company for 6 years and are currently getting your MBA at Seton Hall. Why did you go into the software business, and what do you want to do with your management degree?
CS: I went into software because I was being mentored by several executives who worked in technology, so I learned from some of the best. Technology becomes obsolete every 6-12 months, so I was able to become an expert in a lot of areas dealing with content and had a lot of success. I intend to use my MBA to create value for myself and make myself marketable to employers.
JT: You were recently elected executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. What do you do in this role, and why did you want the job?
CS: I was on the board when the prior executive director was being removed, and some of my fellow board members asked me to put my hat in the ring. My role is to just run the organization to create opportunities and endorsements for retired players, and help their transition from the basketball court to the real world.
BIG EAST "Fantasy Picks"
Cincinnati: Oscar Robertson (1960) 2,973 pts (#1), 1,338 reb (#1), 425 ast (#3), 53.5 FG% (#1), 3-time All-American, 3-time national POY
Connecticut: Richard Hamilton (1999) 2,036 PTS (#2), 82.6 FT% (#3), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY, NCAA MOP
DePaul: George Mikan (1946) 1,870 PTS (#4), 3-time All-American, 2-time national POY, NIT MVP
Georgetown: Patrick Ewing (1985) 2,184 PTS (#2), 1,316 REB (#1), 493 BLK (#1), 62 FG% (#2), 3-time All-American, national POY, NCAA MOP
Louisville: Darrell Griffith (1980) 2,333 PTS (#1), 230 STL (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY, national POY, NCAA MOP
Marquette: Butch Lee (1978) 1,735 PTS (#2), 84.8 FT% (#2), 2-time All-American, national POY, NCAA MOP
Notre Dame: Luke Harangody (2010) 2,476 PTS (#2), 1,222 REB (#2), 3-time All-American, conference POY
Pittsburgh: Charles Smith (1988) 2,045 PTS (#1), 987 REB (#2), 346 BLK (#1), 2-time All-American, conference POY
Providence: Marvin Barnes (1974) 1,839 PTS (#5), 1592 REB (#1), 363 BLK (#1), 2-time All-American
Rutgers: Phil Sellers (1976) 2,399 PTS (#1), 1,111 REB (#1), 2-time All-American
Seton Hall: Nick Werkman (1964) 2,273 PTS (#2), 1,036 REB (#4), 2-time All-American
South Florida: Charlie Bradley (1985) 2,319 PTS (#1), 80.7 FT% (#4), conference POY
St. John's: Chris Mullin (1985) 2,440 PTS (#2), 449 AST (#4), 213 STL (#3), 84.7 FT% (#1), 3-time All-American, 3-time conference POY, national POY
Syracuse: Derrick Coleman (1990) 2,143 PTS (#2), 1,537 REB (#1), 319 BLK (#3), 2-time All-American, conference POY, national POY
Villanova: Howard Porter (1971) 2,026 PTS (#5), 1,325 REB (#1), 3-time All-American
West Virginia: Jerry West (1960) 2,309 PTS (#1), 1,240 REB (#1), 3-time All-American, 2-time conference POY