Dear Josh Smith,
I'm writing this open letter to you in response to some information that came to light in a recent blog post by Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Michael Cunningham, specifically the following notes:
"Josh didn’t have much to say about his future, except to repeat “I’m under contract for one more year with the Hawks” and remind media that he could be fined for talking about the reports of his trade request. His trade request still stands for all the reasons I reported before the trade deadline. I’m told another factor that can be added to the list is his desire to play in what he believes to be a better basketball market. But I’m sure you might have inferred that from the way Josh (without prompting) contrasted Boston’s fans with Atlanta’s throughout the series."As you may know, in March I called out Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson for playing dumb with regard to your desire to be traded. In that post I said the following:
"Josh Smith still has not gone on record saying he does not want to be traded or that Cunningham's source was incorrect about his desires or lack of faith in the organization's commitment to winning a championship."So here is where we stand at season's end. We all know that the Hawks organization would never fine you for saying, "I have no desire to be traded." Therefore, your fear of being fined confirms that you wish to end your relationship with the Atlanta Hawks.
I can't say that I blame you. If you look at everything from draft blunders to the owners suing each other to Michael Gearon, Jr., opening his mouth and making your job harder, the Hawks are probably not ranked among America's greatest companies to work for. The problem I have is that you are blaming the fans.
Before I address that, let me tell you why I'm writing. After watching "The Decision" and then watching Dwight Howard stumble his way through one public relations disaster after another this year, I've often thought to myself that I wish some of these athletes had my cell number so that I could give them free PR advice. I'm a fan of yours, Josh Smith, and I'd like to give you some advice.
What makes me qualified to give you advice? For starters I've been a media professional for about half of my working life (I'm a network engineer now ... got bills to pay). One consequence of serving as associate editor of several small newspapers is that I have in my possession a letter from Evander Holyfield thanking me for my work in publicizing amateur boxing in Georgia.
Beyond sports I've served as a campaign consultant for an 11-term member of Congress. And for two years I had the honor to serve as a volunteer media liaison for the MLK March Committee, which organizes events surrounding King Day each year in Atlanta. In that capacity I was privileged to work directly with civil rights legends Dr. Joseph Lowery (President Emeritus, Southern Christian Leadership Conference), his wife Mrs. Evelyn Lowery (Founder, SCLC/WOMEN) and the late Rev. James Orange (an organizer of the Selma-to-Montgomery March who served on King's personal staff). When Rev. Orange informed the New York Times that he would refuse to comply with the Secret Service's request to vacate Ebenezer Baptist Church ahead of President George W. Bush's visit to the King Memorial, he did so on my phone.
Athletes in America are often subject to criticism that is grounded in racist attitudes. Rev. Jesse Jackson alluded to this when he decried the "plantation" mentality that was the basis for much of the hatred directed at LeBron James after "The Decision." As you can see from the paragraph above, that mentality is not my mentality.
So, having stated my qualifications, let me suggest the following:
Take it back, Josh.
I don't know if it's your dad or your cousin or your best friend that's passing this information to Cunningham, but you've let it be known that you want out of Atlanta because the fans aren't good enough for you. Aside from that, all of the reasons attributed to you for wanting to leave were completely valid. Let's go through those reasons from MC's post in March:
1. Smith believes he needs a fresh start with a franchise where he can better reach his potential on and off the court. He believes the Hawks didn’t do enough to promote him for selection to the All-Star team.
I believe this is absolutely true. I believe that you will receive multiple All-Star and All-NBA selections, but it will happen with another franchise. The failure of the Hawks organization to properly promote you for an All-Star selection in any of the past three years was a monumental failure. I also believe that when you play for a coach like Doc Rivers, such a coach will quickly correct negative aspects of your game such as shooting too many jumpers or quitting on plays to argue with referees. Larry Drew has proven incapable of making such corrections and the organization has failed to provide you with a coach who is capable.
2. Smith, an Atlanta native who has played his entire eight-year career with the Hawks, also would like to play for a franchise he believes is more committed to winning a championship.
Once again, I can't blame you for feeling that you have a better chance to compete for a championship with a different organization. I feel that the Hawks had the talent necessary to advance to the Eastern Conference finals in each of the last two years, but that talent was not properly utilized. The Hawks have almost $250 million in future committed salaries and entrusted that investment to a coach with no previous head coaching experience. That coach then played the corpse of Jason Collins when legitimate rotation big men Zaza Pachulia (against Chicago last year) and Ivan Johnson were available. After the Hawks traded away two first round draft picks to obtain Kirk Hinrich, Drew at times favored Willie Green and Jannero Pargo, whose disastrous impact on the Hawks' postseason effort I have documented.
So you see, Josh, we're in complete agreement. Right up until the point where you say, "Oh and also the fans in Atlanta aren't good enough." The problem I have with comparing Hawks fans to Celtics fans is that, when I stand inside Phillips Arena, I can't seem to find the championship banners anywhere. Did Hawks fans pick Marvin Williams over Chris Paul? Did Hawks fans pick Larry Drew over Dwane Casey? If your issue is with fans groaning when you take outside shots, you need to understand that you took more shots this year from 16-23 feet than Dirk Nowitzki. He shot 50% from that range. You shot 37% from that range.
LeBron's biggest mistake was the way he made Cleveland fans agonize right up until the last minute, and then made his "Decision" in a shamelessly self-promoting, but ultimately self-defeating manner. Dwight's biggest mistake was not having a plan and sticking to it, exposing himself as indecisive. By contrast, you seem to have an exit strategy, you're sticking to it, and you have given the fans in Atlanta fair warning. I applaud you for all of this. But let's talk about how you should conduct yourself for the rest of the time you are in a Hawks uniform.
First of all, stop pointing fingers. True leaders say "I accept all blame," because they know blame isn't what matters. Results matter. Did you succeed or fail? If you failed and it was someone else's fault, you still failed. The next time you speak to a reporter, I would suggest you say something like this:
"I have not demanded a trade and I will fulfill my contract. The Hawks organization knows and understands my commitment to competing for an NBA championship. When this season ends, I will explore free agency. That is my right, and I will look for the best situation for me to compete for a championship. If I feel at that time the Hawks are moving in the right direction, I may consider staying here beyond this season. In the meantime, as long as I am with the Atlanta Hawks I will give everything I have to make this team successful."
James Orange was in Memphis with Dr. King at the time of the assassination to help organize a sanitation workers’ strike. They were trying to help laborers negotiate fair compensation with their employer. Their efforts at collective bargaining paved the way for you to be in the position you are in today, with your talents in great demand and the ability to pick the situation that is right for you. Enjoy that, but respect it. Do you want to be remembered the way Cleveland fans remember LeBron or the way New Orleans fans remember Chris Paul? Play hard until your last minute as a Hawk and don't ever say, "This isn't working and it's not my fault."