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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Sekou Smith was so much more than a journalist

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Many of us by now have experienced the excruciating pain that comes with the loss of someone we care about succumbing to COVID-19.

As we attempt the impossible task of reconciling the suddenness and cruelty of pandemic-related deaths throughout our country, it is especially difficult when you learn of someone you haven’t seen recently losing their battle against this heinous virus.

On Jan. 26, l experienced firsthand the sorrow and angst that accompanies such a loss when Sekou Smith left this world all too soon at just 48 years young.

The talented and affable sports journalist from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who kept me in stitches when he was the Indiana Pacers beat writer for the Indianapolis Star from 2001 to 2005, always had time to zing you with a one-liner and never failed to take me to task if he felt l was wrong about something that occurred in the world of professional hoops.

We debated everything from Reggie Miller’s deficiency on the defensive end of the floor to then-NBA Commissioner David Stern’s conservative neckties, always ending the conversation with laughter and telling each other the dialog was “to be continued.”

Smith would move on to the Atlanta Journal Constitution and from there to Turner Sports and NBA TV, where his analysis of the game was both accurate and unfiltered. While he was both well-liked and respected by his peers, that admiration transferred to the locker room as well with the players he chronicled in his brilliant career. He never sugarcoated anything and wasn’t afraid to write about how poorly an individual had performed, especially if he had witnessed a lack of effort on their part.

I once witnessed a conversation he had with a particular Pacers center who had grabbed only two rebounds in nearly three quarters of action in a game Indiana won. Without flinching, Sekou asked him if he was saving his energy on the boards for the next game and didn’t blink as the player in question gave him the evil eye. Upon recognizing his reluctance to converse about it, he complimented him on his improved free throw shooting and calmly walked away.

He would later file copy that masterfully described the player’s performance in his column as just a bit below lackluster, and with a touch of humor when referencing his newly found prowess from the charity stripe. That type of writing alone made him a must read for NBA junkies, and as he rose to the television ranks for a well-deserved opportunity, he delivered the goods in a similar fashion with his razor-sharp wit, and with a knowledge that was second to none in terms of analyzing teams and players.
What l enjoyed most about this wonderful man was his willingness to mentor others, including this Jimmy Olsen wannabe who would constantly impose his opinions upon him.

Smith never tired of my self-proclaimed title of NBA handicapping czar, and took great pleasure when a friendly gentleman’s wager led to my having to ship gourmet popcorn to his residence to square up the matter.
Simply put, he was a mountain of a man and left a wonderful family behind way too soon.

I will always remember the last time we spoke, he dressed razor sharp for a television gig and yours truly had on jeans and a sports jacket. We pointed out the vast differences of our fashion choices with a laugh and a handshake, and regretfully l never saw him again. He loved to laugh and he was quick on the draw to bust you verbally when necessary, and what I’d give to hear him tell me one more time that while he appreciated my knowledge of legendary retired players, l needed to retire the shoes l was wearing.

So long to a guy who was both prime time and down to earth.

I’m a better man for knowing him, and the world is definitely a lot less funny without him.

Rest easy, Sekou, and thanks for the conversations, and most importantly the direction.

Danny Bridges, who thinks Sekou Smith was actually jealous of his 1970s suede overcoat, can be reached at 317- 370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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