Jason Smith, Basketball Giant

 
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Interview Audio Clips

In March 2005, Jason Smith lead the Sydney Kings to their third consecutive National Basketball League championship—the first team in NBL history to win three-in-a-row. It was a stellar season for Jason personally, capped by the Most Valuable Player award in their winning final series. Early in the season, Jason Smith spoke to Signs about basketball, life and God. Below you can read the full story, but first, here are some of his comments in mp3 audio file format to download:

Clip 1: (164k .mp3)
Jason talks about playing basketball in his 10th NBL season.

Clip 2: (304k .mp3)
Jason reflects on his experiences representing Australia at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.

Clip 3: (320k .mp3)
Jason talks about the metal and physical aspects of being a professional sportsperson.

Clip 4: (424k .mp3)
Jason shares his experience with Christianity.

Clip 5: (304k .mp3)
Jason explains how his faith affects what he does on the court.

Clip 6: (408k .mp3)
During the Athens Olympic Gamess, there were reports of Jason and Sydney and Australian team mate CJ Bruton praying before their games. Where did that start and what do they pray for?


Last month, Jason Smith lead the Sydney Kings to their third consecutive National Basketball League (NBL) championship, the first team in NBL history to win three in a row. As team captain, Most Valuable Player in the final series and after missing last year’s final series because of injury, it was a personal as well as team victory for Smith, who—at 30 years of age—capped his 10th year in the trans-Tasman professional league as defending champion once again.

Having also played for two seasons in an Italian basketball league, Smith admits he isn’t as athletic on the court as he used to be. “But I’ve definitely gotten wiser with age,” he adds. “And I’m hoping that I’m more efficient in the way I play. And I’ve gained in leadership areas from a team perspective.

Smith suggests that because there are so many good players at the professional level, basketball becomes 70 per cent mental and 30 per cent physical. “You have to think about what you’re doing,” he explains. “You have to constantly think about the next play and how you’re going to get a shot, or how you’re going to get a stop [playing defence]. What you’re doing off the court—in programming your training and your diet, stretching and downtime—it all comes into play.”

For Smith, daily training involves a four- to six-hour combination of weights, conditioning and individual sessions. “A lot of people think it’s a pretty easy lifestyle being a professional athlete, but the way we train and the way that my body feels at night is definitely contrary to that opinion,” says Smith.
But he is quick to add, “I love what I do and I treat it pretty seriously.”

Smith’s love of the game grew as he rose through junior playing ranks in Melbourne. “I started off in D grade—the lowest possible—and just worked my way through,” he recalls. “After five or six years of junior basketball, it’s lucky that I had the height and the athleticism making the next step to senior basketball games relatively easy. Then again, I sat on the bench for four or five years when I first entered the NBL, so there wasn’t an easy transition as far as minutes played. But physically I found it easier than most, I’m sure.

The 194-centimetre guard joined the South-East Melbourne team and continued with the Victorian Titans after team amalgamations.

Smith has won a string of NBL individual awards and now has been part of four championship-winning teams.

But what he regards as his career highlight is something not necessarily noted in the statistical or award categories. “I’ve met some unbelievable people over the years and on different teams that I’ve been a part of,” he reflects, “and being able to travel around the world… .

Smith is also a committed Christian, willing to acknowledge God in his life. “I’ve been really blessed with the abilities the Lord has given me, to be able to achieve these things that I never thought would be possible. I met my wife overseas—and the relationship that we’ve built over the years is a prime example of that blessing.

This speaks of a dimension to Smith’s life generally lacking at the elite level. He explains: “I grew up in a Christian home. Our mother took us to church from a young age. But at age 14, I started playing basketball and decided not to go to church anymore. Mum gave us the option, and allowed us to make our own decisions. The three of us kids decided not to go. We really moved away from the Lord.”

But when I was about 22, my wife and I came to a crossroad. I’m just thankful my mother brought me up with the understanding of knowing who God is, and what Christ did in sacrificing Himself for us. I came to a point to finally recommit myself. That was about seven years ago.”

Now I have definitely grown and improved in my Christian habits and decision-making,” Smith continues. “I’m happy with the way I’m travelling now; I’ve got a yearning for a close relationship with Jesus.”

Smith’s commitment has been recognised in his position as a sportsperson with influence. Last year, Smith was named Australian Christian Sportsperson of the Year by a group of more than 100 sports chaplains at the Sports and Leisure Ministry Annual National Dinner.

I guess it’s because I’m in a position to have some ministry within sport and I’m taking advantage of it,” Smith reflects. “I try to be a strong Christian influence on younger Christians—younger kids in general, who tend to look toward sportspeople as role models. I think it was recognition of that. It was pretty humbling and encouraging at the same time.

Smith is adamant his faith does make a difference to what he does on the basketball court. “It allows me to control my anger in a better way,” he says. “Before I used to really flip out, and now I understand that there are consequences to everything. It’s given me the ability to really think about the choices that I make in everything I do.”

My emotions are more on an even keel and my faith has helped me to understand that with sports comes ups and downs. There’s also an unconditional love that helps me keep an even keel.”

It is this maturity—on and off the court—that has seen Smith as a regular in the Australian basketball team since 1999, including representing his country at both the Sydney and Athens Olympic Games. Despite the Australian team’s disappointing results in Athens, Smith says the Games were a special time for him.

“I thought initially I wasn’t going to make it, because I had an injury,” he says. “But things turned around and I made the team, went to Athens and played pretty good basketball.”

And away from the court, I got to the Games Christian Centre, where I met up with other athletes from around the world from different sports. We would pray together and encourage each other as Christian athletes. I found that really amazing and probably the highlight of my Olympics. And also on the spiritual side, it was a real enlightening time,” Smith adds. “I got to travel to Corinth and do a couple of tours with a Christian group—that was good as well.”
A number of reports from Athens mentioned Smith and Australian and Sydney team mate C J Bruton praying together before games. Smith says that’s a regular pre-game routine.

“It’s something we initiated here at the Kings, with chaplain Gary Strickland,” Smith explains. “Initially it was just myself, CJ and Gary who were praying before the game, and then we opened it up to the other guys. A couple of the younger guys used to join us for prayer before games, so God was working. It’s just something that we took on through the Olympics.”

So what do they pray for before stepping onto the court? “I just pray that God will allow me to show the abilities that He’s given, and hopefully bring glory to Him,” says Smith. “[We pray] that His hands will be on both teams, the game will be played at a high level and no-one will walk off the court with an injury.”

Smith is intentional in connecting his faith to all his life, including the role of a professional sportsperson. When asked whether it was difficult balancing these aspects of his life, he admits he’s begun answering that question in a different way.

When I first got into professional sports I would have said yes, just because of dealing with temptation,” Smith reflects. “I struggled with that initially. Being a professional athlete, it seemed to be thrust in my face a lot more openly than it did in my life beforehand, and on a greater scale.”

But I think now I’ve come to realise that no matter where you are in your life, you’ve always got to deal with temptation. I’ve just gained the ability to have some discernment about the decisions that I’m making. And I am, hopefully, making the right ones.

Some of the big decisions facing Jason Smith at the moment are those involved with life after basketball.
“It’s scary for professional athletes staring at retirement or maybe some injury that’s going to stop them doing what they’ve done for the last so-many years,” he reflects. “It can be quite daunting when you think that you’ve still got a family to provide for and a lifestyle that you’ve become accustomed to. But I’m pretty content that I know God’s going to look after me, no matter what.”

“I’ve been really encouraged in the last few years being in Sydney,” says Smith.

“I can honestly say God has done some amazing things. Where that leads I’m not exactly sure, but I have faith that it’s going to be somewhere special.”