For most people, Keith Smart’s career is defined by The Shot.
But for Keith Smart, his career has been equally defined by a long-forgotten game that took place two seasons later — in front of only a few thousand people in a gym in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
It was during Smart’s rocky first year as a pro. He was drafted and cut by Don Nelson’s Golden State Warriors, picked up by the Spurs, then cut again after playing in only two games. When informing Smart of his release, Spurs Coach Larry Brown told him to continue polishing his skills in the CBA.
“He said ‘If there’s an injury, we’ll come back and get you,’” Smart recalls, sitting in his office atop the Warriors’ practice facility.
But Smart didn’t go to the CBA right away. Crushed, he stayed in San Antonio and holed up in his apartment, not working out and eating his way out of shape. After a month, he finally signed with a CBA team.
Just a few games into his CBA career, at that game in Cedar Rapids, he looked into the stands and saw a familiar face: Spurs assistant coach (and current Suns head coach) Alvin Gentry.
“I said, ‘Man, what are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I came to check you out.’ Larry held his word. He said he would come back to look at me, and he did.’”
With Johnny Dawkins injured, the Spurs needed an athletic combo guard – someone like Smart.
“I had just got there, I wasn’t in any kind of shape, and then all of a sudden, boom, it passed by,” he says. “I never got a chance to go back.”
Smart does little to hide his emotion when asked if he still thinks about that night. “Yeah,” he nods somberly. “It affects me big time.”
He would spend the better part of a decade chasing another Shot.
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