BOSTON — For nine years, Marcus Smart embodied everything that meant being a member of the Boston Celtics. He played with a fire and a passion that would have made Red Auerbach proud, and Celtics fans loved him for it.
Smart was a one-of-a-kind player, one that always wore his emotions and his enthusiasm on his sleeve. He embraced eveything that meant being a Celtic, and the team make the Eastern Conference Finals five times during his tenure in Boston, including a trip to the NBA Finals. Though the team never won a title with the feisty guard in Green, he will forever remain a favorite among those who love the team and those he shared the floor with in Boston.
Following a surprising offseason trade that sent him to Memphis — and brough Kristaps Porzingis to Boston — Smart made his emotional return to Boston on Sunday night. He didn’t get to hit the floor diving for a loose ball at TD Garden, as he’s currently sidelined with a right finger injury. But his presence was felt throughout the night, and fans made sure to send plenty of love his way.
The Celtics honored the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year the first chance they got, playing a tribute video that included some of Smart’s greatest hits in Boston.
Fans went wild as they relived steals, blocks, and drawn charges from Smart’s Celtics career. They only grew louder as the video played on, but they weren’t loud enough for Jayson Tatum, who urged fans to take their love for his former teammate to a new decibel level.
“Marcus Smart, he was the fan favorite,” Tatum said after leading the Celtics to a 131-91 win over the shorthanded Grizzlies.
“We love Marcus!” chants erupted from the crowd as Smart bumped his chest and thanked the fans of Boston after that moving video tribute. Ahead of the game, Smart made it clear that the Celtics organization and the city of Boston will always hold a special place in his heart.
“Boston is definitely a second home for me,” Smart told reporters in the media room inside TD Garden. “I spent a little bit over half of my life here, almost. I got here when I was 20. Now, I’m about to be turning 30 in March. So, whew, I can go on all day about everything that I’ve experienced here. Just the way that Boston took me in.
“We all know playing in this city isn’t the easiest, and there are plenty of times where they let us know about it, especially me. But everything is always great here, and I speak for everybody, opposing teams and guys who have played here, that it’s nothing like playing in this place and playing in this city and with these fans,” he said.
“Thank you guys. I love you guys forever,” Smart said of the fans. “You guys will always be in my heart. Boston will always be in here. So, never forgotten. And thank you.”
Tatum wasn’t surprised by the adulation that poured from the crowd for Smart. But he was surprised by something Smart didn’t do during the special moment.
“The way he played, he wore his heart on his sleeve and every night he gave it his all. We have some very smart fans, and they saw that. They appreciated that. So it was just really cool to see,” said Tatum. “Happy for him. I’m surprised he didn’t cry because that was special.”
While Smart is now putting his imprint on the Grizzlies, his impact on the Celtics lives on. Al Horford said that he originally came to Boston in 2016 was to team up with players like Smart and Isaiah Thomas. In Smart, Horford saw a player who wasn’t afraid to say what needed to be said and hold people accountable. That helped Tatum and Jaylen Brown become the leaders that they are today.
And Smart’s impact in Boston goes well beyond the hardwood. Throughout his time here, Smart spent countless days at Boston Children’s Hospital with pediatric cancer patients, and his YounGameChanger Foundation not only gave those patients life-changing inspiration and experiences, but also serves as a source of “guidance, motivation, encouragement, and empowerment for inner-city student-athletes.”
For all of his work in the community, Smart was recognized as Sunday night’s “Hero Among Us” by the Celtics.
“I pride myself on being more than just a basketball player,” Smart said. “And I think being here in the city of Boston has really opened that field for me to really show who I am as a person.”
Since Smart was traded during the offseason, Sunday night was the first chance for Celtics fans to honor the guard for all of his work both on and off the court. They did not disappoint, and Smart will be forever grateful for the continued support he receives from Celtics fans and his former organization.
First appeared on www.cbsnews.com