After the Boston Celtics selected Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, he opened his blue suit jacket to reveal a series of logos on the lining that detail his NBA journey.
On one side was a picture of his home state of Texas with a block letter “M” and the word “Marcus” — both his given name and that of his high school in Flower Mound. On the opposite side, there was an Oklahoma State logo with his college jersey number 33 and below that was a basketball bearing No. 3 with “R.I.P. Todd” inscribed around it in honor of the older brother he lost to cancer.
The story of Smart’s journey to the NBA is truly remarkable. First a glimpse, from Grantland.com:
[Grantland: Smart’s choice]
He wanted to have a childhood, he said. He was 19 and maybe he deserved one. The first time through, he’d been too angry, too scared, too hurt; it was something else, not childhood. He grew up in South Dallas, in a neighborhood he called a war zone, where he’d been shot at before he turned 13. He watched one brother die from cancer and another almost die from cocaine. He got in fights where he was so overcome with rage that he’d smash the other kid’s head against the pavement. He felt like he had a broken arm inside him. There were nights when he thought he might kill someone. There were nights when he thought he would die.
Now, on the cusp of adulthood, he’d finally found a place where he could be a kid. So on April 17, less than a month after his 5th-seeded Cowboys lost to Oregon in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Marcus Smart announced that he’d be returning for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State.1 The news sent little lightning-jabs of shock flying around basketball. Smart, the Cowboys’ leading scorer and the Big 12 Player of the Year, was a consensus top-three pick on pundits’ NBA draft boards, partly because the 2013 class was seen as weak. But by 2014, a stocked pack of ultra-freshmen — Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, et al. — would have come howling in, and OSU’s star point guard couldn’t even be sure of a spot in the top 10. Staying in school would therefore be likely to cost him millions of dollars twice: once when he forfeited the salary he might have made right away, and again when a lower draft slot led to a smaller rookie contract the next year.
And from a stellar profile from USA Today:
[USA Today: Smart went from ‘dead or in jail’ to selfless general]
Six years before Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart became one of the nation’s most respected college basketball players, he threw rocks at people’s heads.
How he blossomed into one of the sport’s most humble stars, an unassuming 18-year-old potential NBA lottery pick, was through a journey defined by deep personal loss and self-discovery.
Rage burned inside him after seeing cancer overtake one older brother and cocaine nearly destroy another. Anger boiled while confronting a neighborhood south of Dallas he called a war zone amid duplexes. He desperately sought to inflict others with the pain that incessantly gnawed at his 12-year-old heart.
One night near his home in Lancaster began like so many others, with Marcus and a friend stuffing their pants pockets with rocks and positioning themselves on the second floor of the apartment complex they called The Pinks, looking for a target with a pulse. Little did Marcus know this would be such a pivotal night in his life.