He patrolled the paint for the Pacers, four times reaching the Eastern Conference finals, but today his game is mud
The Dunking Dutchman, as Rik Smits was known over 12 seasons as an NBA center, was less than a year into retirement, in 2001, when he took his motor home down to Hohenwald, Tenn. The plan was something of a lark. He had purchased the vehicle with light traveling in mind. Then a friend invited him for something more: a weekend adventure in Dixie. Smits left Zionsville, Ind., to join a caravan heading south on Route 65 and landed in the woods of Hohenwald as a spectator at an American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association competition. As if the sight of the 7'4" man behind the wheel of a camper wasn't comical enough, Smits was soon straddling a borrowed vintage motorcycle at the race's starting line, wearing a vastly undersized chest-protector and gloves with the fingertips cut off. "On that bike, with my big feet and my weight," Smits recalls, "I took off like a bat out of hell."
Smits, who owned a small 50cc bike growing up in Eindhoven, Netherlands, had been persuaded by the same friend to enter a beginner's competition, and consistent winner that he was (10 playoff appearances), he earned a victory in his first motocross race. He hasn't looked back. "I was hooked," he says.
For eight years after Hohenwald, Smits rode hourslong hare scramble and cross-country races on the AHRMA circuit, only to move on to modern bikes, tackling "mud holes, big hills, obstacles," says Smits, who customizes his rides with taller seats boosted by foam. He does suffer from one competitive disadvantage: When he stands upright, as off-road racers do, Smits cannot reach his own handlebars. "I'm a sit-down rider," he laughs. "You can't miss me."
Smits, 44 and divorced, even built a motocross trail behind the home that he shares with his daughter, Jasmine, 17, and son, Derrik, 14, but he hasn't forsaken his first passion. Before back surgery sidelined him, Smits played for nine years in Indianapolis rec leagues. He also passed the game down to Derrik, a budding, 6'6" center. "But," Smits adds, "my boy likes to ride too."