Can you really blame Marcus Smart?

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Staff Columnist Posted: 03/04/2014, 11:35am
Array Travis Ford, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown

Have you ever played a game, of any sort, where you were fully in the moment, locked and loaded, focused wholly on ­doing your best and winning?

Who hasn’t?

Be it Little League, neighbor’s yard soccer, basement sock hoops, high school, college, pro ball, whatever — there you were, an athlete subsumed in the joy of the game.

Then something happens.

Like what happened to Oklahoma State star guard Marcus Smart on Saturday night against Texas Tech in Lubbock.

In the final seconds of a tight game Smart raced down the court to attempt to block a Tech player’s layup, flew into the photographers’ row along the baseline, and as he picked himself up, abruptly turned and moved toward a fan and shoved the man violently in the chest.

It was clear Smart had heard the fan, a big-time Tech supporter named Jeff Orr, yell something offensive at him. What it was that was shouted is up for debate. The slo-mo video lip readers will have to break it down and give us their report.

Smart, who was pulled away by teammates and a policeman and was slapped with a technical foul, would say that the taunt was racial in nature. The n-word or something similar.

After the dust had settled, Orr, 50-ish, an air-traffic controller in Waco, Texas, who has been identified in the past as the Red Raiders’ “Number One Fan’’ on the Texas Tech website, later apologized for his words. He shouldn’t have called Smart “a piece of crap,’’ he said in a statement, but, he added, he didn’t say anything racial in nature.

Learning about Orr’s vitriolic past and former Oklahoma State player and 11-year NBA vet Desmond Mason saying he always heard racial slurs when OSU played in Lubbock makes one wonder about the words that were, indeed, spewed. Former Oklahoma State and Bulls guard John Lucas III said via Twitter that Orr “was at the games talking crazy even when I was in school.’’ That was a decade ago.

But here’s the thing: At some point, who cares what this clown said?

Why was he saying anything?

Who are these people who believe that simply buying a ticket to a sporting event absolves them of common decency, empathy, civility?

A middle-aged man taunting a teenager who has fallen nearby (Smart is 19) — where in our free country does that arise from?

Smart himself has been suspended for three games because of his actions, which, one supposes, could be characterized as assault by legal nitpickers. But he apologized in a televised news conference Sunday, fully and seemingly with genuine sadness.

He even Jeff Orr’s name, apologizing to him personally, saying, “I’m taking full responsibility’’ and “I let my emotions get the best of me.’’

Then he added something that struck me hard: “This is not how I was raised.’’

I didn’t know much about Smart before this incident, other than that he came back to Oklahoma State for his sophomore year, even though he might have been a 2013 NBA lottery pick. But I respect him immensely now.

People, including little kids, look up to him, he said, and his behavior shamed him. “No finger pointing. This is all upon me.’’

There was something very decent about his remorse. We can’t have players going after fans, as Ron Artest and mates did in the infamous NBA “Malice in the Palace’’ episode. We can’t have on-court muggings, such as the one that occurred years ago when University of Minnesota players stomped Ohio State center Luke Witte, or — horrors — the punch by Kermit Washington that almost killed Rudy Tomjanovich.

But what do we do about people such as Orr? Such as the Miami Heat fan-lady who gave an obscene salute to the Bulls’ Joakim Noah last year?

Orr has said he won’t attend any more Tech games this year. That’s his self-imposed penalty.

But the taunts and cruel epithets will continue by other fans, as they are at other schools. The giant heads and pinwheels and even — knee-buckling! — Playboy centerfolds held up behind the backboard during college opponent’s free throws are interesting, and, I guess, fair. Taunting Steve Kerr, back when he was an Arizona undergrad and his professor father had just been killed by a terrorist in Lebanon, that was wrong. On any level.

Yet it happened. But it was students doing it, young people. Clueless. In need of refinement, education.

Will we have to paint the clear backboards white, move fans back another 20 feet, put up plexiglass barriers between the court and the screamers?

I don’t know. But I don’t find people such as Jeff Orr amusing in any way.

And I guarantee you, if I were Marcus Smart, I would have done the same thing.

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