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Farewell to a True Pelican, Jason Smith
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you’re doing so to the longest tenured player from your favorite team. Jason Smith has given us so much on and off the court that it’s going to be hard to see him in anything besides a New Orleans Pelicans jersey, but especially one that says Knicks.
When Smith showed up in New Orleans expectations were fairly low, as they rightly should have been. He came over from the 76ers along with Willie Green for Darius Songaila and Craig Brackins. Not exactly a star-studded trade…
After a his first season, few were sold on Smith as an integral part of moving forward. To paraphrase myself – There isn’t much use for a jump shooting big man who is a subpar defender and really can’t shoot that well. Fortunately management knew better than to let him walk, signing Smith to what wound up being a pretty sweet three year deal worth a mere 7.5 million.
Oh boy did I enjoy eating my words throughout the next three seasons. Smith turned a corner after his initial year in New Orleans; Improving on defense, establishing himself as a locker room leader, and excelling on the offensive boards. Outside of his contributions to the basketball side of things, Smith became one of the main faces of the franchise. He was used in all sorts of team oriented advertising, as well as the rebrand, and was arguably was the most recognizable Pelican to New Orleanians prior to Anthony Davis coming aboard.
Playing 199 games over his four years with the club, Smith finds himself all over the new New Orleans all time leaderboard (2002-2014) in games played (9th), offensive rebounds (10th), offensive rebound percentage (10th), total rebound percentage (10th) blocks (8th), blocks per game (8th), block percentage (5th), field goal percentage (5th), free throw percentage (9th), and personal fouls (8th).
Speaking of fouls, who could ever forget Smith laying out Blake Griffin in one of the most epic Hornets games in history. Let’s take one more look at that for old times sake–
Speaking with Smith after that foul it was clear that although it likely earned him the largest ovation he’s ever received, making him an instant fan favorite to Nola fans and Blake-haters across the league, he was not proud of it. In fact, he called it one of his most regrettable moments ever on the court. I will always remember the look on his face when I asked him what it felt like having that play be his most famous to date.
While some athletes would play it off as something that Blake deserved, or simply an inadvertent mistake, Smith took the blame for it entirely. He did it, he meant to do it (although not that hard), and he would take whatever punishment came his way. Nay, he deserved whatever punishment came his way. I’ve never seen such a huge disparity in how a fan base felt about an action compared to how the player himself felt. He took no joy in the hard foul, regardless of the consequences it had on the game (a victory).
Jason Smith was a kind and compassionate human being in a league overflowing with hubris. He was always willing to give an interview, regardless of how tough the questions were going to be, regardless of what he’d done or not done recently on the court. Every Pelicans reporter will miss how easygoing he was in the locker room, and as far as I know there was literally not a single time that he was anything but helpful.
Stories of fans running into Smith off the court yield similar stories of his character. If you have a particularly good one please leave it in the comments as a lasting testament to just how much we enjoyed having him in New Orleans.
Always working at his game, he was a favorite of Monty Williams who once called him the backbone of the bench unit. To this day I still can’t think of a negative thing Monty ever said about Smith as a person, or a single time his effort was questioned by anyone– coach or fan.
When I fantasize about the basketball player I may have been had I not mysteriously stopped growing at just under 6’0, Jason Smith was who came to mind. Perhaps that’s why I liked his game so much. It wasn’t that he was the most naturally gifted player, or the biggest guy on the court. He didn’t wow you with his ball skills or dunk like a boss. Smith just cared about what he did, worked to get better, and gave it the full 100% every single time he stepped on the floor. He never backed down from a challenge or gave up anything without a fight.
I’ll miss Jason Smith, the original Pelican.
What a great article! As Jason's high school coach, I've known Jason since he was a little kid. Always a person with a great attitude and the hardest worker on the team. Good luck in NYC Jason!
Awesome Joe...he was a wonderful ambassador for our team in so many ways on and off the court...the kind of guy you want to stick around even in a transition to a player-assistant coach kind of guy. The fact that he was a professional and respectful gentleman made him even easier to like, and probably why he was my daughter's favorite Hornet/Pelican! I had a feeling he might be gone but wished against it as I felt his presence meant more to the team than his production, which is not often the case. It is a shame that his injuries kept him out so often, but it was almost a by product of this 150% playing style. I'm sure he'll bring some stability to that Knick group, and knowing that big Phil approved of his presence speaks well of him in regards to his ability. Hoping he does well, just not against us. Maybe we'll see him again since the brain trust here really seemed to like having him around.