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Steve Smith: “MSU holds a special place in my heart; giving back is contagious”

Michigan State University

MSU basketball All American, NBA champion, and Olympic gold medalist Steve Smith talks with Russ White on MSU Today. Smith is a studio analyst for NBA TV. He appears on NBA GameTime, a live studio show featuring highlights, analysis, commentary and live look-ins at games being played across the league.

“The university has a special place in my heart,” Smith tells White. “I never thought, Russ, back in my days in college, that I'd be on the other side, I used to call it. When you're an athlete and young, you're always running away from the media, but I definitely enjoy it.”

Smith's advice for the students he encounters at events like the Spartan Sports Journalism Classic involves passion and hard work. And he says he learns from the students and fellow alumni too.

Credit Good Reads

“Network with all our terrific alumni. You have to put your hard hat on and do the extra and have passion for what you want to do. Hone your skills in writing and in being in front of and behind the camera. And then one day you'll get a chance to maybe have that opportunity.”

In 1997, Smith donated $2.5 million toward the construction of the Clara Bell Smith Student Athlete Academic Center. This donation in memory of his mom is the largest gift to ever be given by a professional athlete to any college or university. This donation helped fund the construction of a comprehensive study center for student athletes, among the best of its kind in the country. Additionally, he provided $800,000 to fund a scholarship that covers more than 90 percent of tuition for select Pershing High School students who attend Michigan State.

“We were the first back then, so that was very special. And then I also understood from being an athlete myself before student athletic centers were built on campuses how much they could benefit the student athletes. I saw the future of how much it could help them achieve their academic goals. It’s gratifying to have student athletes come up to me and say ‘thank you.’

“And the scholarship is a way to give back to the Detroit community where I grew up, a community I’m so fond of. It’s gratifying to see how well the Smith Center is doing. It has helped recruiting for all sports, not just basketball. Parents love it, too. We’re student athletes, and I always tell people the student comes before the athlete. Take that very seriously because you're going to be a student in life much longer than you're going to be an athlete. Even if you have a long career, we're all lifelong learners.”

Smith's generosity set an example for other Spartans to give back to MSU.

Credit Detroit Free Press

“Giving back is contagious. After my gift to the university, we had Spartans like Earvin, Flozell Adams, and Draymond give back, too. When I got the news about Draymond’s gift, it made me proud and stick my chest out and say, ‘Hey, not a lot of universities are doing this.’ I had a chance to tell him I'm proud of him. And obviously we speak a lot; I've known him since he was junior in high school. It's great to see the way he's developing. He's his own man. His giving wasn't him following my act. It was him. That's Draymond Green. I had my day. I can step back and be proud. I'm Uncle Steve now and I get a chance to see all the development.”

Smith says his path to MSU began with fellow Detroiter Greg Kelser and the Spartans 1979 national championship.

“Growing up in Detroit, my first connection to Michigan State was in '78 and '79. Greg Kelser was a kid from Detroit that I used to hear about from my brothers, and they talked about his game. And then obviously the headliner was Earvin Magic Johnson. Those two guys and the Spartans won a national championship. And I can remember I was young, I think I was 10 then, my family jumping around and just us gathering around the television. You had Bird versus Magic. Greg Kelser got a chance to win a national championship from the city of Detroit. So MSU was my first love.

“As time went on, this little guy just kept coming around. Tom Izzo just kept coming around. He won me over and I was his first recruit. I was actually his first recruit he ever signed. We all know, and I can speak candidly about this, Jud wasn't really recruiting back then. He was just like ‘You want to come. You come.’ But Tom put in the hard work.

“And then I learned so much on the court with Jud and Tom and the coaching staff. And I tell people, look at my coaching staff I had here. I mean, I had Jim Boylen Junior and Senior, both have been very successful at the college level and in the pros. I had Herb Williams, who was just fantastic. I had Tom Crean and Tom Izzo. I had Brian Gregory. I was blessed. And then I had the general, the crazy man Jud. I learned a lot about life and tough love, but it was what I was used to, and it drew me to Michigan State.”

MSU Today airs Sunday mornings at 9:00 on 105.1 FM, AM 870, and wkar.org. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.

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