Friday, June 5, 2009

Randy Smith

I heard last night and read today that Randy Smith, a former NBA basketball player, had passed suddenly while working out on a treadmill. Smith is a contemporary and whenever I read about contemporaries passing it reminds me that time is precious and limited. Smith was a favorite of mine so the loss made me think a bit longer about the good fortune of life and the potential all have to make an impact while we are here.

Randy Smith played for the Buffalo Braves when I was going to graduate school in Buffalo. He had played college basketball at Buffalo State College. Not to be confused with what is now Division I, the University of Buffalo, Buff State was a division II school before there was anything lower than division II. Smith was not heralded in college but did get drafted by the Braves in the 7th round. In college Smith was known for his outstanding soccer play more than for his basketball skills. I read today that in the late sixties and early seventies--when soccer was not on radar screens of most Americans--fans would flock to Buffalo State to watch Randy Smith play the game.

As a professional basketball player he was an outstanding streak shooter who seemed almost always to be on a streak. In 1978 he was the mvp of the NBA all star game during which he hit one shot after another from several spots on the court. After the game his coach, Jack Ramsay, remarked that Smith's performance was not a surprise to him as he saw Smith shoot brilliantly on a regular basis. That was exactly my reaction as well. My recollection is that Smith had the capacity to grab a pass in motion and then set quickly for his shot, or when he could not set on the ground, somehow find a way to get set while he was in the air and hit nothing but net on a jumper. Smith played on the great 73-74 Braves team with Bob McAdoo, Jim McMillian, Garfield Heard, and Ernie DiGregorio. McAdoo got most of the ink for good reason and McMillian and Ernie their share as well. Garfield Heard is remembered by NBA fans for the last second jump shot he hit for the Phoenix Suns pushing an NBA finals' game into triple overtime. Yet, for me, it was Randy Smith --(who for a long time held the record as the iron man of basketball not missing a game because of injuries for several seasons) who was the key to the success of the Buffalo Braves. A team player who did not seem to squawk for the ball, nor grouse about a lack of respect, he may have been the most talented athlete on a very good basketball team.

It is Kobe and the Lakers who are front and center on the consciousness of basketball fans today and likely for the next fortnight as the NBA championship series between the Lakers and Magic has begun. But for fans of sport and really all others, I'd recommend thinking about someone who never did get much press, but who made a mark, seized the day, and passed too soon.

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