The Warriors are not your typical top-draft-choice weaklings. They are a talent-rich team that finished 26 56 a year ago after imploding under injuries and feuds. Smith's primary task will be to rebound and block shots, steadying a defense that yielded 111.1 points a game, worst in the league last season. Though Smith can score with either hand down low and can stick a 15-footer, he won't be asked for heavy offense in a lineup boasting All-Stars Mullin and guards Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell.
Next summer, when Letha moves back east, Joe will buy his mother her dream house on the Virginia coast, and then he will further fulfill her wishes by taking classes toward his college degree in criminal justice. "She's been working all her life for me, so now it's my turn to work for her," Smith says. "She's threatening to sue me, so I guess I'll go to summer school and get my diploma."
Yet another item for the Proud Table.
Joe Smith is writing that name again. He is in a sporting goods store at a Baltimore mall signing autographs just weeks before he begins his new career. A teenage boy steps up to the table, and Smith inscribes his signature on a shard of paper. The J and the S have been simplified to allow for as many autographs as possible in the shortest time. "You're in the NBA now, Joe," the kid says. "You better watch out for Barkley and Kemp and Webber and...." The kid finally runs short of breath.
"Anybody else?" asks Smith in mock terror.
When the signing ends, Smith has scrawled his name a couple of hundred more times. "It's great to finally be in the NBA and to have all these people asking for my autograph," says Smith. "But sometimes I wonder, What do people do with it? Do they put it in a scrapbook? Do they hang it on the wall? To me it has become just a name on a piece of paper, but I realize that it means a whole lot to a kid in the same position where I once was. It takes me back to when I was in school writing my name over and over, a one-in-a-million nobody. Now I'm Joe Smith."
So many Joe Smiths. Only one Joe Smith.