Ex-Harding star, New York Knick Charles Smith remains involved in basketball

NEW HAVEN — It’s been nearly a quarter century since Charles Smith retired from the NBA, but he remains in touch with the sport.

He works with former and current NBA players on their financial future. Smith helped create the NBPA Foundation, a non-profit organization to support retired players in need.

“It definitely seems so long (in retirement). I work with a lot of current players. I talk to them about life and finance and help their agents. I stay in the game in different ways. I’m more or less doing my own thing,” Smith said. “They always say. “The moment you understand the game, you’re out of the game.” It’s really about information. Even if athletes don’t do the right things financially when they’re young, like a lot of kids do, it’s still up to their reps, their agents, their managers to make sure they’re not only getting the right information , but also that they structure their life in the right way so that they do not have problems in the future.

Smith, who played for the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs, has a son at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, and still keeps in touch with his high school coach nearly four decades later. having dominated the MBIAC while wearing a Presidents Harding uniform.

He lives in New Jersey – declined to say exactly where. Smith still has “family from all over the city of Bridgeport. I bring him back quite often. He even occasionally watches a high school game.

Returning to Bridgeport after visiting his mother, who lives in Middletown, he attended part of the Wilbur Cross-Hillhouse match on January 20. In the age of COVID-19, the 6-foot-10 Smith was able to slip in and out of the Floyd Little Athletic Center without anyone recognizing him.

Smith always tries to watch rivalry games, whether it’s the NBA, college basketball, or, in this case, the high school game.

“It’s interesting to watch these games and these guards coming up in threes from here,” Smith said, pointing to a spot way beyond the high school 3-point line. “The NBA has always had an impact on college and high school play. They shoot from so far, some guys, you look at the mechanics of their shots, they’re not even ready to do that.

“Even when I watch this game, I’m looking for a kid who can dominate both sides of the pitch for even a minute. You want the kids to play every play as if it’s their last play. … When you see a kid who’s got it you know he’s got it you can see he’s sticking out throughout the game you don’t see a kid stand up and play both sides if they did , they would be noticeable.

After a dominant career at Harding — named a Parade All-American in his senior season in 1984 — Smith moved to Pittsburgh. The Panthers were nationally ranked at this time, with Smith playing alongside Jerome Lane and Sean Miller. Smith was the Big East Conference Player of the Year in 1988. He also played for the United States in the 1988 Olympics.

Smith was selected third overall in the 1988 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He was immediately traded to the Clippers, where he spent four seasons. Smith was then traded to the Knicks, who reached the NBA Finals in 1994 under Pat Riley. Smith said he learned several injuries from Riley’s life.

“Pat had his ways. He was an excellent X and Os type trainer. He always had different ways of bringing the team together,” Smith said.

He recalled when the Knicks flew to Utah to play the Jazz amid a short losing streak. Riley diverted the team’s plane to Reno, Nevada, and gave each player some money to play with.

“I am not a player. Everything I had was in my pocket the next morning, I didn’t spend a penny. I like eating more than playing,” Smith said. “There was another time when we were in trouble. We were heading to practice and (the team) went to the movies instead. It was cool. We did little bonding things.

A book titled “Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the New York Knicks” was recently released, detailing the Knicks during the Riley years. Smith said he had heard of the book, but said he had not been interviewed by author Chris Herring.

Smith’s tenure with the Knicks ended in 1996. He ended his playing days with the Spurs.

Smith said he remains in contact with former teammate John Starks, among others. He stays in touch with Lane and he’s still connected to Pitt because his son, Chayce, is a walk-on there (Chayce is missing this season due to injury, his father said)

He keeps in touch with Bill Dixon, the assistant manager of New Haven Parks and Recreation. They were friends growing up in Bridgeport. And he keeps in touch with his former Harding trainer, Charlie Bentley, who now lives outside of Atlanta.

“People did things here and there, but there was never a real ceremony to honor his success and what he did for so many young men during his tenure there,” Smith said. Bentley retired in 2011 with 651 wins and nine state championships in 34 seasons.

If asked what kind of advice would Smith give to children who want to continue playing while continuing their education?

“Kids from Wilbur Cross, Harding, Bassick or Hillhouse, you can always go to Yale or Harvard,” Smith said. “The education is there. You must take it. You have to eliminate all distractions around you and get the education, but it’s there. … Ultimately, it’s who you are all the time, what you want to do in life and what you want out of it because it’s there for you.

joseph.morelli@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli

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