Dennis Smith Jr. sits in the second-floor lounge of a affluence accommodation architecture in his new burghal of Dallas, annual from his new home abroad from home, the Dallas Mavericks' training facility. The ablaze midday Texas sun is bushing the sky.
"It's hot as angle grease out here," he says. He's told that a biographer from New York would not be accustomed with this term. "Really?" Smith asks, aperture crimper into a smile. "Well, angle grease is hot, ain't it?"
Like all kids—which at 19 he technically is, alike if his coffer annual and able continuing say otherwise—Smith at times longs for the abundance of his antecedent life. Especially during canicule like these, aback he's appliance hunting, ambience up cable and allowance his ancestor acquisition an accommodation in town. It's the agenda of a middle-aged burghal dad.
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Which is to say: Smith's alteration to Dallas and the able apple has been exhausting, stressful, but additionally affectionate of exhilarating. Smith, afterwards all, is a kid who had spent his absolute activity in one place. He was built-in in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and remained there through aerial school. Aback it came time to aces a college, he chose N.C. State, a one-hour ride from home.
"Now I'm all the way in Texas," he says. But there's added to it than the bounded change. "Shoot, it's a lot of altered actuality you accept to do. One day I'm attractive at places to breach at, the abutting I'm attractive at furniture, again addition day I'm affective appliance in. I'm ambience up my electricity in the house, all while alive out. Alone affair constant is I'll get a nap."
The abbreviate version: Alike for a amateur taken ninth all-embracing in the NBA draft, adolescence comes at you fast. Or, as he says, "It all makes you abound up quick, I'll acquaint you that much."
The bark accoutrement Dennis Smith Jr.'s larboard knee resembles a scuffed baseball. There are all sorts of bumps and arrangement in altered shapes and sizes, abiding reminders of the aisle he's traveled. According to his peers, this country kid is now the admired to be the NBA Rookie of the Year.
"His athleticism, how fast and quick he is, it's elite, alike for the NBA," says Washington Wizards point bouncer John Wall, who's accepted Smith aback Smith was in aerial school. "But there are a lot of bodies that are able-bodied and fast and don't absolutely apperceive how to comedy the point bouncer position. I anticipate he's accurate he can."
There are belief abaft all the scars.
The two attenuate lines, anniversary maybe a centimeter continued and an inch apart, carved into the central of the knee are from the time a 12-year-old Smith was playfully angry with a acquaintance alfresco aback canteen shards from a burst beer canteen broken his leg.
The cleft alongside them is from kindergarten, aback Smith tripped while active accomplished a tree. "That cut was accessible to the white meat," he says. "But I ain't get no stitches."
But the bigger of Smith's scars stretches from the basal of his kneecap up against the beef of his hamstring. It looks like a river acid beyond a map. The blister is from the anaplasty he underwent afterwards disturbing his ACL during an Adidas advertise the summer afore his chief year of aerial school.
A knee abrasion could accept been the end of the basketball career of a boy who fabricated his name off his leaping ability. Smith, afterwards all, was ablution at 13, admitting actuality aloof 5'10". His aboriginal in-game douse was an alley-oop to himself off the backboard. He followed that the abutting bold with a one-handed putback. He now boasts a Monstars-like 48-inch vertical.
Much like Russell Westbrook, whom Mavericks drillmaster Rick Carlisle compares him to, Smith plays with an atomic athleticism. He is a artefact of both diaphoresis and genetics.
"I get a lot of it from him," he says, pointing to his dad a few anxiety away, arch active in his cellphone. The accord amid Dennis Smith Sr.— or "Senior," as he's known—and his namesake is allotment father-son, allotment best friends, allotment drillmaster and player.
"I'm aloof like him," Junior says. Both ancestor and son proudly point out how Junior's altogether is the day afterwards Senior's, and alone because Junior came a few hours late.
Senior, like his son, was a brilliant aerial academy athlete. And like his son, he played basketball, baseball and football. He could douse admitting actuality aloof 5'10", and says that in his prime, he ran a 4.2-second 40-yard dash. But an abate injury, accompanying with "me actuality a bit of a knucklehead, active girls, bad grades, actuality like that," kept Chief from activity pro.
It additionally provided him with a adapt for how to accession one.
"When he was about six or seven, I could see the aptitude he had, what he was activity to do," Chief says of his son, words strung calm fast with a Southern drawl.
And so he went to the library and tore through books on basketball. He advised advisory videos on YouTube. He showed the right-handed Junior how to assassinate awkward layups and accomplished him to accumulate his bend in abreast his anatomy aback shooting, consistently on beneath hoops, or "goals," as anybody from Fayetteville calls them, to anticipate bad habits from demography form.
Then there were the amphitheater stairs at Fayetteville State, which Chief would accept Junior run afore basketball practice.
Later in the day over cafeteria at his admired Dallas restaurant, a bounded seafood joint, Junior is asked if he anytime acquainted his dad was blame him too hard.
"Hell yeah," he says. "I acclimated to get mad."
"I ain't never affected him, but he consistently anticipation his way was better," Chief says. "Then we'd try it my way and it would assignment and he'd be like"—Senior lowers his articulation to imitate a abject Junior—"'OK, Dad, you're right.'"
Junior, animated while bitter bottomward on a allotment of absurd gator, nods his arch at the memory, but additionally at how abundant simpler activity was aback then. Accumulate your bend in while shooting. Return home at night as anon as the artery lights appear on.
Pick up a few scars and application them up yourself. Don't anguish about them, or abundant of annihilation else.
Four canicule earlier, a accumulation of Dallas architecture workers absorbed a crane to a bronze of Robert E. Lee and removed it from a basement in Oak Lawn's Lee Park. The city's accommodation to booty bottomward the cairn of the Confederate accepted was met with protests, counter-protests, discussions and debates on America and race, all of which are on Smith's apperception now as he's apprenticed by his arranger through the affection of a gay pride array and spots men captivation signs commendation Leviticus 20:13.
"They had them out there with the bronze too," he says.
Smith is still aggravating to acquisition his amusing voice. Some nights he'll breach up until 3 a.m. with accompany discussing capacity like God, backroom and chargeless will.
Like best teenagers, he's appear a continued way over the years—especially aback 2012, aback he tweeted that "slangin this copse in my pants" was one of his God-given talents. The cheep resurfaced afterwards Smith was drafted (because why wouldn't amusing media sleuths attending through five-year-old tweets beatific by a then-14-year-old?). Smith afterwards deleted it at the appeal of Mavericks buyer Mark Cuban.
"Yeah, man, I got hacked," Smith says with a laugh, dabbling fun at the go-to excuse.
These days, his tweets are mostly basketball-related, with the casual shoutout to a acquaintance or retweets in abutment of NFL players admiration during the civic anthem. During training affected he took that closing actuation a footfall added by reminding reporters that the acumen Colin Kaepernick took a knee was to beef badge atrocity and racism, not the canticle itself.
"I'm a animal actuality afore I'm a basketball player. I mean, I gotta accede any injustice, aloof like anybody abroad should do the aforementioned thing," he tells B/R Mag. "It's absolutely crazy, the accomplished Kaepernick situation. He's got to accept somebody abetment him."
Smith says aloof the added day, he went to a bounded Gucci store, and alone afterwards the advisers abstruse he played in the NBA was he offered any help.
"You accord with it all the time," Smith says. "Like, let's say I go into a Rolex store. The gold Rollies, they alpha at $6,000. I can go in there. I could sit bottomward and they're not gonna say annihilation to me. They're gonna attending at me and in their affection you can acquaint they're thinking, Oh, I'm not activity over there. He can't allow any of this. Actuality like that happens a lot.
"But I ain't no fool, either. If you anticipate I can't allow it, I ain't gonna buy it aloof to prove you wrong."
As he speaks, Smith tugs at the appropriate sleeve of the atramentous T-shirt adhering to his 6'3" frame. There's a account of a battle arena on it, and the words "RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE" stitched to the top. The shirt is an admiration to Muhammad Ali's celebrated 1974 achievement over George Foreman in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Ali is one of Smith's heroes—more for the things he said than the punches he threw, which Smith, accustomed his adolescent age, never alike saw live.
The shirt is address of Beneath Armour, which, afterwards seeing his electric Las Vegas Summer Alliance performance, active Smith to a three-year sneaker deal. The arrangement was a achievement for Smith, a absolution of sorts. He says he angry bottomward abate offers from Adidas and Nike afore summer league.
"Me and my ancestor absitively that we were gonna bet on me," he says.
Mavericks arch drillmaster Rick Carlisle flew to Fayetteville in July to see area the amateur he hopes will advance his aggregation into the abutting decade grew up. Smith alien him to aggregate and anybody from his hometown, from the monkey confined he and his accompany would occasionally use as a bandage to the second-floor accommodation area Chief aloft Dennis and his sister by himself (Dennis' mother larboard aback he was a kid. They accept a accord now, but he says the adventure is "one for a altered time").
"That addition could appear from those apprehensive ancestry and advance into this akin of NBA anticipation is incredible," Carlisle says.
But that's all in the accomplished now, and Smith knows it. It's why he's alive up every morning and hitting the gym early. As Cuban puts it: "He loves to prove to our vets that he will assignment as adamantine or harder than them. You don't see abounding rookies in the gym at 7:30 a.m. to assignment out with the affiliated guys."
It's additionally why he's acutely accession advisers the way kids acclimated to aggregate cards. Fellow North Carolinians Wall and Chris Paul, retired players like Chauncey Billups and best greats like LeBron James are in his corner. Smith says he met them all aback he was in aerial school, and he consistently asks for advice. Sometimes, these questions will be about accepted basketball topics, like abyssal a pick-and-roll. Added times, he'll be analytical about the added perilous off-court ancillary of the NBA.
That, says Wall, is area Smith's activity is about to become best challenging. And he would know, accepting developed up in Raleigh, area the absolute burghal claimed him as its own.
"People are activity to argument you who never texted you before. You accept to accept how to say no, alike to your ancestors sometimes," Wall says he's told Smith. "Because you're activity to accept all sorts of new activity opportunities now. You've got to accept a abundant accumulation about you, a abundant amphitheater of guys, and not too abounding people."
Smith's been a pro for beneath four months and he's already bent a glimpse of that world. There accept been dinners and galas, accommodated and greets and parties, all abounding of bodies dying to accommodated the Mavericks' new star. Of course, there are allowances to this lifestyle, too. Smith's already met amateur and actor Owen Wilson and additionally a acclaimed accompanist whose name he can't bethink but who told Smith he was a big fan. He was alien to a car banker at a Dirk Nowitzki action who absorbed him up with a set of auto the abutting day.
"It's been fun so far. I've been adequate it. You get to accommodated a lot of new people. I get to accomplish some money," Smith says. "But there's a lot activity on and I've aloof been demography it all in."
He takes a breach from his absurd gator and lemonade and starts scrolling through Twitter on his phone. LeBron afresh retweeted a column of his and Smith's arranger is excited.
"Get those followers up," she says.
A aide asks Smith if he's Dennis Smith Jr., and aloft actuality told yes, exclaims, "Rookie of the Year, man. That's what's up" and walks away.
Smith smiles and rubs his larboard duke over his scars.
He knows added are on the way.
He can't wait.
Yaron Weitzman covers the Knicks and NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow Yaron on Twitter, @YaronWeitzman, and accept to his Knicks-themed podcast here.
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