Smush Parker Has Sights Set On NBA, Plans To Play in D-League

Updated: October 18, 2016

Whether it’s Don Larsen for his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Scott Bjugstad’s 43 goals with the Minnesota North Stars in 1985 or Chumbawamba’s creation of Tubthumping, many athletes and entertainers have been branded throughout their entire lives due to one event or season.

Former NBA guard Smush Parker falls into that category, as any game of word association regarding Parker will almost certainly track back to his time with the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant.

Nearly a decade later Parker, now 35-years old, has been out to prove that there is more to him than his brief back-and-forth with the ‘Black Mamba’ and he plans on using the D-League as a stage and, hopefully, a vehicle to make it back into the NBA.

Parker even went as far as trying out for the Long Island Nets on a whim after his pastor mentioned the Nets had a D-League team. Parker, however, is not eligible to be claimed as a tryout player as any player with an NBA career cannot be allocated as such.

Growing up in Queens, Parker immediately embraced the rough and tumble persona of the New York Knicks teams of the time, led by young big men Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. While he would play a guard role in his own career, Parker drew attention from scouts early on.

His work on the court dazzled coaches around the country but as Parker tells D-League Digest, his efforts on the academic side didn’t match up.

“Coming out of high school I didn’t have the grades to straight to a four-year university,” Parker said. “So I had to go to prep school or junior college and I ultimately decided on junior college with the help of my mentor Rodney Parker.”

He was looking for a change in his life and with his commitment to the College of Southern Idaho, he couldn’t have found a much different place than his hometown of Queens.

“Moving to Idaho was definitely different for me. Coming from a place like New York straight to a rural town was definitely a different experience for me, but I wanted a change and it certainly provided me that,” he said.

After a year in Idaho, Parker returned back home for one year with Fordham University in which he was named Second Team All-Atlantic 10. In a somewhat surprising decision, he chose to enter his name into the NBA Draft to check out the level of competition that he would be up against.

“Entering the NBA Draft was easy for me. After my first year at Fordham I told my coach that I was interested in testing the waters in the draft camps and after playing in those and seeing what the competition was,” he said. “I was realizing that I could compete with the guys that were going to the big schools and that had big seasons.”

The gamble didn’t wind up paying off immediately, as Parker went undrafted. Despite this he was undeterred and moved his sights to the Summer League, where he had stints with both the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors.

It was here that he caught the eye of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had traded their starting point guard from the previous season (Andre Miller) earlier in the offseason. They chose to sign Parker to a contract and with that, the door opened for his first real opportunity.

Just two years after playing in Twin Falls, Idaho, Parker was able to step onto an NBA court for the first time.

“It was a dream come true. Although I was there for years, I honestly never felt like I was in the NBA. I had my foot in the door and nothing was ever guaranteed to me, so always had to stay on my grind,” he said. “I could have been cut any day and each day I came into practice I was coming in to keep a job.”

After usurping the starting role from Milt Palacio, Parker went on to play in 66 games overall but with a new coaching staff and LeBron James coming in, he wasn’t able make it through the transition.

Though he had NBA options, Parker made the decision to jump over to play for Aris B.C. in Greece, a move he credits with growing his confidence.

“It gave me a year of professional experience under my belt and it gave me confidence to play my game,” he said. “I won the Greek Cup and I had a lot of confidence going over there. I knew that I would be back, so when I did come back I still had that same confidence.”

Coming off of a championship in Greece, Parker had the chance to enter a similar situation by joining the defending champion Detroit Pistons. Though his stay with them was brief, the lessons that he learned have stuck with now, over a decade later.

“It was incredible. The attitude and demeanor of everybody was so positive, they were ecstatic and happy and in a good state of mind,” he said. “Everyone was a professional on that team and there were a lot of veterans, so I learned a lot in a short stint of time. Playing behind Chauncey [Billups] and Lindsey [Hunter] and playing for Coach [Larry] Brown was something I’ll never forget.”

After a brief stint with the Florida Flame in the NBA D-League and with the Phoenix Suns, Parker signed on with the Los Angeles Lakers and quickly earned the starting point guard spot.

It was here that he had to develop under not only Head Coach Phil Jackson, but also future head coaches Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw who were assistants at the time.

“That was a great experience for me all the way around with the coaching staff, they were all ex-players. It’s a great experience to play for coaches that actually played the game at that level. It was a comfortable environment where I was able to go in and learn a lot,” he said.

Much has been written about Parker’s time in the nine-plus years since, but he now recognizes any faults of his own that may have led to those situations.

“There are things that go under the radar because of what’s in the media between Kobe and I, but what a lot of people don’t understand, now that I can look back at that situation, he and I are just competitors and neither of us back down from a competition,” he said. “I could have handled any situation at that time better but I didn’t and it was a learning experience.”

While he started nearly every game over the course of two seasons with Los Angeles and scored 11.3 points per game on 44% shooting (including 36% from three-point range), Parker was out of the NBA after just 28 games following his departure from the Lakers.

Since his last stop in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, Parker has been all over the world with stints in China, Russia, the Dominican Republic, Croatia and many more. He has managed to continue winning championships, all while being able to see different parts of the globe.

“Winning another Greek Cup and winning back-to-back titles in China were a high point for me, but the travel itself has been great,” he said. “I just wanted to travel the world and basketball has allowed me to do that as well as live amongst other cultures. The whole experience has been phenomenal.”

In addition to the more traditional basketball hubs like Greece and China, Parker also found himself in more unique basketball markets.  

“Playing in Iran and Mongolia was almost as eye-opening as playing in Idaho. Mongolia is extremely cold, but it was extremely traditional in terms of culture. I would have never guessed what I learned just by being there,” he said. “They have a lot of culture and they’re the modern day Eskimos and they still live in igloos and walk around in huge fur boots and it was just kind of jarring to me.”

His travels have allowed him not only the opportunity to grow as a person through experiencing different cultures, but also help him grow as a player through facing different levels of competition and styles of play.

“I’m definitely a better player now than I was when I left the NBA. I may not be a high-flying player, but I’m smarter and more consistent,” he said. “As a person, it’s almost a decade ago so there’s a lot that I’ve learned in my travels just by maturing and growing. I’m just in a different state of mind and more at peace.”

His near-decade of experience out of the NBA has helped him grow, but he is looking to break back in and show teams around the league that he belongs among the best players in the world.

“My sights are back in the NBA and that’s the ultimate goal. I’m a better basketball player, so I know I can still play at the highest level and the D-League is just the first step in helping me to prove that,” he said.

It may take a few months in the D-League to get there, but Parker believes he has what it takes to catch the eye of NBA teams one more time.

“I’ve always known that I can play and compete at that level, it’s just about getting the opportunity and seizing the moment as Phil Jackson would always teach us. That’s what I’m all about and what I’m going to show this year.”

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  1. Pingback: Smush Parker busca volver a la NBA a través de la D-League

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