What can you say about Atlanta Hawk superstar forward Josh Smith? Since the Hawks drafted him 17th overall in the 2004 NBA Draft, he’s been one of the league’s most entertaining players—unless he’s blocking your shot. The 6’9”, 240-lb. beast makes it look easy.
In reality, nothing came easy for Smith. His childhood was tough. But thanks to the game of basketball, together with the motivating force of his family, Smith found the fire and passion he needed to succeed—and that he still displays whenever he steps on the court.
Growing up happened early at the Smith household in Georgia. While most kids his age were worrying about their next family vacation, Smith had more serious concerns. He says, “[We had] to always worry about the lights cutting out, little things that you shouldn’t have to worry about as a kid.” But instead of backing down and accepting his unfortunate circumstances, Smith fought back. “That helped me a whole lot to build that fire and the energy and the motivation that I needed in order to be able to push me through those moments where I wanted to stop and quit,” he says.
Smith never did quit. The fire inside kept burning as he fought to make it to the next level, putting in years of hard work on the court and playing against the best young basketball players in the country. For his senior year of high school, Smith transferred to basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, where he first earned his shot-blocking credentials. In the summer of 2003, he played alongside the formidable Dwight Howard on the highly-coveted Atlanta Celtics AAU team.
Smith now finds himself the focal point of a team that has made the NBA playoffs the last four years but that, despite his best efforts, has been unable to advance, losing to Cleveland, Orlando and Chicago in the Conference Semifinals the past three seasons. Those disappointments are what sent Smith back onto the court during this off-season. He continues to improve his game, the goal of a NBA championship foremost in his mind.
“My goals for this off-season [are] obviously to improve from what I did last year,” says Smith. Going into each off-season, Smith analyzes what he did the previous season, finds his weak points and improves on them through “hard work and dedication.” He then polishes skills he’s already mastered.
Smith admits that on some days he doesn’t want to get out of bed. But his family continues to motivate him to stay mentally strong and continue to work. “My motivation is my family,” he says. “You know how people are with their family—they love the mess out of them.” Thus, Smith sees anything less than 100 percent effort as failing his family. “I look at it as though I don’t want to let them down. My mindset is that I don’t want to fail my family, so I think that helps me out.”
Thanks to his exemplary work ethic, Smith is still a force in the NBA. On Feb. 2, 2010, he became the youngest player [at age 24] to reach 1,000 blocked shots. As he continues to work this off-season, there’s no question that the fire that ignited within him as a young kid will continue to burn, fueling improvements in his game.