Lakers Q&A: Joe Smith maintains positive attitude in limited role, indulges passion for rap music and collecting hats
Below is a recent conversation with Lakers backup forward Joe Smith, whom the Lakers acquired Dec. 15, 2010 from New Jersey for Sasha Vujacic and a 2011 first-round draft pick. He holds the league record with Chucky Brown, Tony Massenburg and Jim Jackson for most franchises played for (12),including the Golden State Warriors (1995-98), Philadelphia 76ers (1998), Minnesota Timberwolves (1999-2000), Detroit Pistons (2000-01), Timberwolves again (2001-03), Milwaukee Bucks (2003-06), Denver Nuggets (2006), Chicago Bulls (2007-08), Oklahoma City Thunder (2008-09), Cleveland Cavaliers (2008, 2009), Atlanta Hawks (2009-10) and New Jersey Nets (2010)
From a basketball standpoint, what have you gotten out of being a Laker so far? I’ve enjoyed being on the team that competes the way we do. It hasn’t been perfect, but at the same time as of late we’ve been competing and playing the best type of basketball I’ve seen this team play from afar for years.
I noticed you have assumed Josh Powell’s role last year where you shake everyone’s hand before the starters step on the court. What do you think that does? That’s something that I’ve been doing for maybe half of my career. Every team I’ve been on, especially as of late for the last five or six years where I’ve been coming off the bench and I haven’t been starting. It’s something that I just picked up on. It’s a last-second, ‘let’s-get-'em’ before the tipoff. I look at as when you see a veteran as long as I have out there, it should be something that gets everybody going. Usually it’s a younger guy and the last guy you might see is a guy in the first couple years in the league, but when you see a veteran that’s been around and into it as anybody out there, I think it feeds into everybody.
What role, at least from what they tell you, do Phil [Jackson] and the rest of the coaching staff envision for you? We haven’t really talked about that. I guess we’re still trying to get a feel for each other. I’m picking up the offense more and more every day. Defensive schemes are something I’ve always known. The defense is no problem. Just trying to be as ready as I can whenever my number is called. As much as I do want to play, I understand this team already has a rotation. We have Lamar [Odom], Pau [Gasol], Andrew [Bynum] and that’s a rotation that he’s been going with. As long as we win, I’m good.
You’ve talked a lot about learning the triangle offense to be an ongoing process. Where are you with that? I’m pretty close. There’ still some terminology I have to listen very closely to in order to unscramble it and put it in basic basketball terms. Other than that, I’m pretty close. We go through the triangle every day, in shootaround, practice. Whether it’s three-on-three or four-on-four, whatever it is, we use some form of the triangle. I’m picking it up in all types of angles. It’s now having to do it without thinking about it. I hate to be out on the floor and having to think about a lot of things. It takes you a second behind once you have to think about it. Now it’s just being able to be out there and read and react. That’s something that will help me out a lot once I really get it down.
Do you feel settled yet in L.A.? Not all the way. When I first moved into my place we went on a 12-day, 13-day trip and then it was the All-Star break. We had a day here and then went to Portland. I’m still trying to get settled in my home. But it’s good to have a home to go to. I’m still waiting for my car to get here. I still have some stuff in New Jersey that I’m getting shipped out. Everything is happening slowly but surely.
And you just rent at this point? Just rent. I did the buying thing earlier in my career. After a while it gets hard to get the houses off your shoulder, especially nowadays.
When did you stop buying and start renting? The last home I purchased was in Milwaukee [in 2003]. I stopped purchasing houses and started renting. We found a place in Arizona and that’s where my family got established there. It made it easier for me to uproot my stuff than having to uproot wife and kids and everybody. I rent everything. I rented in Denver, Chicago, Oklahoma, Cleveland, Atlanta, New Jersey and rent here.
You hold the record for the most franchises played for. How do you handle that? A lot of people might look at it as a negative thing. But I look at it as a blessing. First of all, to be able to stick around for so long and be able to adjust my role on different teams where my worth is appreciated. A lot of guys I’ve seen come and go throughout this league. For me to be able to stick around and play with so many teams and so many players and meet so many people, it’s been a blessing for me.
You came in as the No. 1 draft pick in 1995 out of Maryland and averaged double digits in your first few seasons. Then you were traded multiple times. What was the process in coping with that? The first time I got traded was tough. The first time is always the toughest. Then after that, a few times I signed as a free agent. But most of the time I have been traded. I look at is as a new opportunity every time now. I don’t take it as personal or a negative like I used to.
How do you explain what happened with Minnesota? [Following the 1999-2000 season, the NBA discovered Smith and then team executive Kevin McHale were involved in a salary cap tampering scandal. Smith was allegedly promised a future multimillion-dollar contract if he signed with the team for below market value, prompting the league to void the last year of his contract, fine Minnesota $3.5 million and take away from the team five first-round draft picks]. That was something that was out of my control. I was a young guy and was kind of being misled at the time. It was pretty much out of my control. That’s something I don’t look back at or hold a raincloud over my head because I didn’t have too much to do with that.
Reflecting back do you feel that affected your standing in the league? It opened my eyes a little bit more. It made me feel a little more as if I couldn’t trust certain people as much as I thought I could. It takes a lot of time to have trust in certain people. Other than that, it’s water under the bridge. I went to Detroit for half a year and then went right back to Minnesota. It showed my appreciating with the Timberwolves and how much they appreciated what I brought to the team.
What helps you keep a positive outlook on this? I try not to let too much bother me. It’s just my upbringing. That’s something I was always taught. No matter what, keep your head up and keep your head high. Even when you’re going through something, not everybody needs to know. I always try to stay positive and keep a smile on my face. It can’t be that bad. Somebody is going through something worse. It can’t be that bad.
You grew up in Virginia and went to Maryland, so how were you a Laker fan? I was a huge Magic Johnson fan. A lot of my friends were either Celtics or Bulls fans. I just happen to be a Laker fan. I was a Magic fan and I loved how they used to play then. I liked how they got up and down the floor with Showtime. I really don’t know how I ended up a Laker fan. I loved watching them play. It was exciting basketball back then. They were on TV a lot. Even on the East Coast, they were on TV all the time. Sometimes I would get in trouble staying up late to watch it. It was worth it. I loved watching Magic play. Sometimes I had to take one on the chin, but it was worth it.
Your Twitter handle has 6,941 followers. It started at 90 before you got here. What does that support mean to you? It’s amazing. I’ve been trying to keep tabs on how many I get a day now. It’s kind of hard because they come so quick. I might lie down and take a nap before a game and wake up two hours later and have 40 more followers. It shows how crazy the Laker support is, not just here in L.A., but even when we go on the road. Half the arena is filled with Laker fans. It’s amazing. When you hear "M-V-P" chants for Kobe on the road, you know it’s ridiculous. Laker fans are everywhere and they share their support to players, especially through social networks. I’ve been getting a lot of good responses on my Twitter about my songs on Ron [Artest]’s mixtape. People have been saying I’m a monster out there.
How's your mixtape going? Right now I’m four of five songs into my mixtape. I’m looking to add another eight more. I do most of my writing on the plane and the hotel rooms. It’s going pretty well. I’m doing it with the interns, up-and-coming producers, they got nominated for a Grammy for their work with Justin Bieber.
Who are they? They’re a two-team production team from Chicago. They really know their stuff. They’re up and coming. They really grow with their music. They’ve been doing some stuff with Beyonce and Justin Bieber, a wide range of people.
Who are your main hip-hop influences? I’m an old-school guy: Biggie, Jay-Z, Tupac, that’s my era. Early '90s. I still listen to the new-generation guys with J.Z., T.I. and Lil’ Wayne and Drake and all that. But I originate with the early '90s.
Do you go even further to the '80s with NWA and Public Enemy? I do. That’s a funny story. My first NWA tape my mom took because there were too many curse words. I was a big NWA fan, too. Any good music back then, I enjoyed.
Many athletes have ventured into rap, but you say you’re not just another athlete that raps and that you’re more than that. How do you feel you distinguish yourself? I’ve been around a lot of teams and players that actually have done a lot of music with. A lot of them look at it as a hobby and something to come by and do a couple songs and like to hear themselves on the track. I’m way past that point where it’s just a hobby to me. It’s something I love to do. It’s something I enjoy doing. It’s something I feel pretty good at.
What do you think of Artest's mixtape? Ron is pretty serious with it, too. That’s why we’ve been jelling. He’s deep into it. Obviously being here and being around a lot of rappers he has a few more connections than I have. He’s been helping me out with that. Ron is pretty serious in it as well. Ron has his thing down pretty good. The songs we did ["This Is What It Sounds Like" and "We Will Rock You "], we just went into the studio and vibed a little bit and came up with a concept and wrote it. That’s pretty much how I feel about my studio sessions.
How did Derrick Caracter do? That was the first time he had ever been recorded. It took some molding that night when we were in recording, but he’s pretty good.
Back in the day, Kobe dabbled in it. Will you try to recruit him and develop him? He hasn’t said he wants to do anything. He’s more than welcome. I remember the Brian McKnight song he had and the video he shot. He’s more than welcome. I’ll welcome anybody.
In Cleveland, you wrote a pregame anthem, is that something you’d do here? I have, but they don’t play too much hip-hop around here.
They play "Purp & Yellow." Yeah, we talk about that all the time. After they play the "Purp & Yellow" song, we don’t get too much. If they play it, I’ll do it. I did two songs in Atlanta, one for the playoffs last year and one during the season. In Cleveland, I did two both years for the playoffs and got good responses from the fans and team. It’s something I wouldn’t mind doing here if I knew they would play it.
Have you gotten a chance to talk with Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre at any of the Laker games? I see Dre a couple times and saw Memphis. It was during the game so I couldn’t really talk music then. If I can get something done with them, I’m willing.
I also noticed you wear a lot of different hats [at a recent morning shootaround, Smith was wearing a black Chicago White Sox hat]. What's the story behind that? I have a huge collection. I don’t know exactly when it started, but it’s been quite a while. Almost every city I go to, if I go to the mall, that’s pretty much the only stop I make unless I’m picking up a gift for somebody else.
How many do you have? I’m pushing 300-400. It’s pretty much every team with all colors. Nowadays they make teams in all colors now. It’s not like the standard team colors anymore. You might find a black-and-white Red Sox hat or one with random colors. Whatever city I can find the one I don’t have, I try to pick it up.
Which team has the most hats in your collection? Probably the Yankees. They make so many different designs and colors. They’re one of the top-selling baseball caps so probably the Yankees and then probably the Red Sox after that.
How many of Lakers? I just got my first one on Christmas from Derrick Caracter. He gave me a nice Lakers hat and I wore it for the first time the other day. It matched one of my outfits.
Do fans get confused which teams you’re rooting for? I get that all the time because I don’t have a baseball team. It’s easy for me to mix and match my baseball caps. I get that all the time. When I come here with my Boston hats they give me such a hard time and heckle me. Even when I go out and just have a hat on everybody always asks if that’s my team or what’s my affiliation with that team? I really don’t have any.
So what are your favorite teams? Lakers. Football, I’m a Cowboys fan. I won’t wear anything else except Cowboys. That’s why I collect baseball caps and University of Maryland. That’s pretty much the sports I watch. I watch some baseball. But I don’t really watch hockey.
How do you determine what hat you’re going to wear? It just depends on the outfit and what type of look I’m going for today. Some fit different than others. They’ll all be the same size, but for some reason some fit different than others. It depends on the fit and the shade.
-- Mark Medina
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Photos from top: Laker Joe Smith blocks a shot by Hawks center Zaza Pachulia in February; Smith pulls up for a jumper over Detroit’s Jason Maxiell in January; Lakers forward Ron Artest recently released a mixtape featuring various artists, including Lakers backup Joe Smith; rapper Snoop Dogg often attends Laker games, and Smith says he'd love to work with him. Credits: Alex Gallardo / Associated Press; Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire; Matthew Emmons / US Presswire; Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times