Smart Takes Refuge in Basketball to Cope with Tragedy

CANTON, Mass – Marcus Smart’s heart was heavy and full of sorrow Monday afternoon as he stepped onto a podium to address the Boston media for the first time since the death of his mother, Camellia Smart.

Eight days earlier, Camellia passed away at age 63 from bone marrow cancer. Her devoted son had been by her side in Dallas all summer long, caring for her and providing her with love until the very end.

It marked the second time that cancer had caused destruction in Smart’s life, having lost his 33-year-old brother, Todd, to the disease in 2004. Still, the fifth-year Celtics guard found the strength to return to Boston this week and he is finding ways to cope with the devastating loss.

“The last couple months have been real humbling,” Smart said in an opening statement at Celtics Media Day in Canton, Massachusetts. “It kind of brings you back to reality. But I have a great supporting cast around me, a great community in Boston and in Dallas, a great organization in the Celtics, friends and family.

“Right now is the easiest part for me. The hardest part for me is when everybody has to go back to reality and to work. That’s probably when it’s gonna hit me the hardest.”

But returning to work may be the best coping mechanism for himself. The game of basketball has always been his refuge during times of tribulation, and now he needs the game more than ever to help divert his despair.

“I look at basketball as like a storm. But it’s the eye of the storm,” explained 24-year-old Smart, who began training camp with the Celtics Tuesday morning. “The calmest place of it is to be right in the eye of it. And that’s what basketball is for me; it’s my eye.

“And while everything else around me is going on,” he continued, “the destruction and things like that, basketball keeps me calm. That’s probably why I go out and you see me dive on the floor, or take a charge, or throw my body this way and give it everything I have because I know and understand that any day could be my last day.

“And if it were, would I be proud of what I accomplished in that time period? God has blessed me with an ability to go out there and play the game that I love to play. And I don’t want to regret that. So, I feel I need to go out every day and play like it’s my last.”

As he does so, Smart will have 14 brothers to lean on. His Celtics teammates are like family members to him, providing mutual love and support during times of adversity.

Many of those brothers showed up to Camellia’s funeral this past weekend, and that lifted Smart’s spirit tremendously.

“To see those guys show up at the service was actually a surprise to me,” said Smart. “I didn’t know anybody was really going to show up. I mean, (Coach) Brad (Stevens) told me he was coming and a couple of my coaches, but my teammates Al (Horford), Terry (Rozier), Jaylen (Brown), Daniel Theis, Semi (Ojeleye) and those guys showing up — not only those guys but my friends and family — that meant a lot to me, and it just shows how much this organization, as a family, cares for one another.”

Also included in that family is all of Celtics Nation. One of the factors that pulled Smart back to Boston during free agency this past summer was the unwavering love provided by his devoted Celtics fans.

Smart knows that their love for him will only intensify now that he’s going through personal hardship.

“I don’t think it’s ever really easy to lose a loved one, especially your mother,” he said. “But I have a great supporting cast around me.”

And that supporting cast will be by Smart’s side every step of the way to help him get through this tragedy.

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