Kenny Smith has become one of the most visible NBA experts in the world. The 10-year NBA vet won two championships with the Houston Rockets after getting drafted No. 6 overall out of North Carolina, but his fame has grown more recently as a studio analyst for TNT. Smith and Charles Barkley have helped make “Inside the NBA” a must-watch on the schedule for a lot of basketball fans.
A few days ago I got up with Kenny “The Jet” to talk about his new promotional venture with Taco Bell, his favorite NBA rookies, and growing up playing ball in New York City:
Dime: So what are you doing with Taco Bell?
Kenny Smith: Well, we’re trying to get the Federal Reserve to make more $2 bills because there’s been such a great demand for the new 2-Dollar Meal Deals. In tough economic times, Taco Bell is very sensitive to what’s going on. (Laughs) Obviously we’re just gonna have fun with it, you know? We’re doing more of a viral media campaign, and hopefully with your words about it in Dime Magazine, the world is gonna know about it.
Dime: Being a New York guy, how big was it having Ron Artest and Lamar Odom playing a major role in the Lakers winning a championship?
KS: It’s actually bigger for my brother, because he coached both of them from the time they were nine years old until they were about 14, 15 years old. They were playing AAU together, and one year they came to Houston when I was there and played in one of the local tournaments. Having them win the championship this year was big, not only for NYC basketball, but for my brother as well. To have two NBA champions from the same AAU team is kind of crazy.
Dime: Rafer Alston was also on that team, right?
KS: Oh yeah. And Speedy Claxton, so you had four guys that made it to the NBA from one AAU team. I mean, that’s not normal. The thing is, you need great mentors in your life, and my brother was one of those mentors for them, and I guess I was maybe an influence indirectly through him.
Dime: Who were your mentors?
KS: My brother and my Dad started the whole thing for me. In any profession, you need great mentors. You need to believe in yourself, but without positive reinforcement and being around the right people, it’s too difficult to make it by yourself.
Dime: Talk about the basketball culture in New York.
KS: In New York, basketball is part of the infrastructure of the city. Basketball influences not only on the sporting end, but the political end, the fashion end. I mean, baggy shorts came from basketball in New York City. When Run-DMC was screaming “My adidas!” they got that from basketball players in New York wearing ’em. From music to sports, in NYC it’s different from everywhere else.
Dime: I’m a West Coast transplant, and one of the first things I noticed about New York was there seems to be a hoop on every corner.
KS: There is. And basketball is a different game from everything else because it’s the only game where you get called to come play. Nobody is like, “Hey, let’s go run track,” or “Hey, let’s go play baseball.” But with basketball, people call you. “Hey, let’s go 2-on-2, let’s go 1-on-1.”
Dime: New York’s latest pro prospect is Lance Stephenson. What do you think of his game?
KS: Lance is a strong player. At his size, I think his ball-handling separates him from the other guys at his position.
Dime: What other rookies are you most looking forward to seeing play?
KS: I’m looking forward to all of ’em, because we’ve only seen them play about 30 games. You look at the best players in the Draft, the guys in the Top-5, and a lot of them are freshman who haven’t played that much, so we don’t really know how good they are. So I’m anxious to see them in the summer league, I’m anxious to see them in the preseason, so we can get a gauge of how good they really are.