With Linsanity kicking into overdrive, the New York Knicks and Miami Heat meet in Miami Thursday night. Starting Friday, the All-Star festivities in Orlando will be dominating headlines through the rest of the weekend. So really, there was no better time to talk to a man who'll be in the center of it all.
We had a chance to interview Kenny Smith on Wednesday as part of a promotional campaign with Coke Zero, and mostly because he's one of my two or three favorite analysts in sports, I jumped at the chance. He's promoting a text message contest (details below) and a sweepstakes at enjoymoremadness.com, where you can register for the chance to a trip for four to New Orleans for the Final Four. Anyway, we'll start with Knicks-Heat, and take it from there.
On the Jeremy Lin sensation: "It's just been great for basketball. Jeremy encompasses what we've all felt at one time. I don't understand how sometimes great managers, great coaches, can't evaluate talent. I think we've all, at one point in our life, we've all felt that we weren't evaluated correctly. And Jeremy just kicked in the door when he got the opportunity."
On his appeal as an underdog: "He's part of every fabric of life. He's been the underdog in a lot of areas. His ethnic background, a lot of us have been underdogs in that. Not going to traditional powerhouses, some of us have been part of that. Being cut, or being fired ... He's played every underdog part. Most guys are just one or two parts, he's like six-part underdog."
Whether Lin can sustain this: "Yeah he's already there ... I mean, he's 11 games in. When he was three games in, people were like, "Oh it's only three." When he was six games, it was like, "Oh, it's only six." Stop saying it's only! What's the magic number? The Knicks are gonna run pick-and-roll, and he's good at it. That's not gonna change."
On the Knicks' matchup with the Heat: "The Heat are the best team in basketball right now. This is what we expected last year. This is definitely what we expected last year. I don't think the Knicks are at that point no matter how great Jeremy's playing. No matter how great the team has been playing. I just don't think that ... you know, they could win, possibly. Or they could lose. But you can't measure yourself right now, and say that you're the Heat."
On the effect of the lockout on this season: "I think we just pay attention to more games this year. There have been bad games last year. You know there were blowouts, bad play, and teams weren't doing well last year. I don't think that it's changed dramatically this year, I just think that we pay attention to more teams, because more teams have an opportunity to be one of those eight seeds. So, you pay attention more. But I remember A LOT of blowouts last year, a LOT of bad play last year. A lot of great play, too. But I think it's consistent. Then you look at the Heat, their third game in three nights [last week], they won by 30. So what sense does that make? It's not different this year."
On his favorite teams to watch: "In the East I like watching Miami and Chicago, and now I like watching the Knicks. In the West I like watching Oklahoma City, for sure, and I like watching the Spurs, which is surprising. And I really like watching the Nuggets in Denver."
On Orlando calling Dwight Howard's bluff this year: "I don't think it's a bluff, the guy could be a free agent next year. He has an opportunity to be a free agent, and they have to decide if they're gonna be able to get someone in there that's gonna make him want to be on the Orlando Magic next year."
But he'd have to leave behind a lot of money if he leaves this summer: "So?"
[...awkward pause where I kinda regret the question]
On Dwight leaving behind money to sign somewhere else: "If I have 100 bananas, right? Let's say if I have 110 bananas, and you tell me I only have 100 bananas. Ehhh. ... [But] if I have 10 bananas and you say I only have TWO bananas, now you're telling me something different. You know what I mean? When you're talking those kind of numbers, the quality of life doesn't change. It doesn't. And he would always make more in certain markets. I don't know if he could make it up, but when you're talking those numbers, I don't think that they play that big a part. You can put a price on being happy, but 100 million is not gonna make you unhappy."
On All-Star Weekend: "I always liken to it your trading cards, that you've grown up with--they're walking around. So you know, you'll see LeBron James walking around with Bill Russell walking around with LeBron. You're never gonna be in an environment like that. And that's what makes it fun. I mean it's a weekend of ... you know, parties are part of it. I even do an event this year, I'm having a party with Mary J. Blige. But the big thing is, the environment. Not the parties, not the game ... just the environment. All of it. As a basketball fan, the jam session, going to all of these things, that's what makes it fun."
On his March Madness promotion with Coke Zero: "We're giving college basketball fans an opportunity to text to win. So it's up until March 10th, you text 0, plus the name of your favorite team, and then 2653. And you get a chance to win March Madness Live on your iPhones and Android phones. I would hit zero plus UNC, and then I would push 2653. And then you can also get on the website and win tickets to the Final Four. The website is EnjoyMoreMadness.com."
Quickly, on UNC: Does Carolina have a shot at this year's title? "I think we do. We have great backcourt play, great coaching, talented players, what else you need? And we've got a guy who can get it done in the last minute, in Harrison Barnes.
What about Kentucky? "You're gonna win or lose games to teams like Kentucky at the buzzer. You're either gonna win 'em, or lose 'em, but that's what's gonna happen in the Final Four."
... And that's the end of that. Enjoy the game tonight, enjoy All-Star Weekend, and as a Carolina fan that's as biased as Kenny, God I hope he's right about the Heels making it all the way.