The new Warriors admit that they were unaware of Smith's NBA stint as an acrobatic 6'5" swingman whose career ended in 1992 after a series of right knee injuries. His low profile as a player works to his advantage in building relationships with the rookies. "It's hard for stars to do what I'm doing," Smith says. "When I was with Orlando, they tried to have Dr. J do the same kind of thing, and players were too much in awe of him. One thing these guys definitely are not is in awe of me."
When Smith retired, he decided against taking the traditional coaching or scouting path. "I had seen guys come into the league and leave kind of lost, with no real life skills," he says. "I knew I wanted to help guys have productive lives after basketball."
He joined the Warriors two years ago in community relations, but the team always had planned for him to work with players as well. "I was an assistant coach when Otis played here," says Golden State general manager Garry St. Jean, "and I saw the way he took Mitch Richmond under his wing when Mitch joined the club [in 1988-89]. When we had a chance to bring in Otis [in '99], that was what I remembered."
Smith's work with this year's rookies is made easier by the fact that they're as close to one another as they are to him. All three have the same agent, Dan Fegan, and they spent several weeks working out together in Los Angeles before the draft. Still, each player faces a distinct challenge as he begins his first training camp.
Richardson, who left Michigan State after his sophomore year, is a 6'6" aerialist who is under pressure to boost attendance by electrifying fans in a way that Antawn Jamison, Golden State's high-scoring star forward, cannot. Murphy is a sharpshooting big man from Notre Dame who will have an opportunity to play significant minutes with the Warriors, but he has to prove that he can do more than shoot. The speedy 6'3" Arenas, who slipped to the second round because he's inexperienced at the point and undersized at the two, must battle for a spot in a crowded backcourt. "The great thing about Otis is that he treats each guy as an individual," says St. Jean. "He's not working from some manual."
Even before training camp opened last Saturday, the rookies had already impressed the Warriors' brass with their work habits. "[ Arizona coach] Lute Olson told me that Gilbert was the kind of guy who wouldn't stop working out unless you threw him out of the gym, and he was right," says St. Jean. "Troy comes in to work out on his own with a written list of drills. Jason will come in at 10 or 11 at night and work out for a couple of hours. The encouraging thing about them besides their talent is that they're all motivated." They are also motivated by the knowledge that there is playing time to be had with the woeful Warriors, who were 17-65 last season.
The rookies know that Smith's opinion isn't always what they want to hear, but they value it nonetheless. He persuaded Arenas, who has a one-bedroom apartment, that buying three big-screen TVs would be excessive. (Arenas wound up getting one.) When Murphy signed his guaranteed three-year, $3.5 million contract, he had one purchase in mind: "A Humvee," says Murphy, referring to the huge vehicle. "It's something I've wanted for a long time." Smith pointed out the behemoth's impracticality—it's too wide for the ramp of the parking garage at the team's practice facility—and even visited a Humvee dealer and found that the rookie would have a hard time folding his 6'11" frame into the vehicle. (Murphy settled for a GMC Yukon Denali.)
Although Smith helps his charges in countless areas, he stops short of acting as their private secretary. "I will not call the electric company or the real estate agent for them," he says. "What we're trying to do is not to take care of them but to teach them to take care of themselves." Toward that end, for instance, he is arranging for the players to meet with a chef—not to hire him to cook for them but to have him teach them proper nutrition and how to prepare their own meals.
The rooks can clearly use the culinary guidance. After enjoying a barbecue at Smith's house recently, Arenas tried his hand at grilling. "I was wondering why it didn't taste as good as it did at his house," says the guard, who called Smith. Arenas learned that he shouldn't bathe the charcoal in lighter fluid or let the meat become engulfed by flames. "I'm learning and getting better," Arenas says. "When I get really good, I'm going to invite Otis and his family over. It's one way to say thanks for everything he's done."
Smith insists that all he wants in the way of thanks is to see Arenas, Murphy and Richardson become successful, self-sufficient players and people. That, and a bigger office.