Taking it back a little further with this one. Most people who followed the Showtime Lakers probably remember Mike Smrek; whose name means juniper bush (yup, we bring the obscure trivia along with the obscure players). He didn't have a spectacular career, but he was definitely respected by his teammates and opponents. Let's take a look back at Smrek's career.
Smrek grew up in Canada and attended Eastdale High School in Welland Ontario. He didn't start playing basketball until he was in 11th grade and didn't really have the mindset of an athlete but had a good foundation having spent hours working on his family's farm. It also helped that he grew to 7 feet tall.
He took his game to Canisius College, a Roman Catholic Private school out in Buffalo in 1981 and played all four years. By his senior season, he was averaging 15.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting above 60% from the field, setting school records in field goal percentage in consecutive years.
The NBA came calling as he entered the 1985 NBA draft. The Portland Trailblazers called his name and selected him as the 1st pick in the 2nd round but immediately dealt him to the Chicago Bulls (One might say that the Trailblazers were directly responsible for pairing Smrek with Jordan).
He only played in 38 games in his rookie year, averaging 2.8 points and 2.9 rebounds in a little bit over 10 minutes per game but he did gain some valuable playoff experience as the Bulls were swept by the eventual NBA Champions, the Boston Celtics in a series that included a historic game.
Smrek was waived by the Bulls after the season and was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers in November of 1986. He was a young player with a lot of potential and size for a Laker team that needed another big.
He signed on with the right team as the Lakers would go on to win the championship that year and Smrek remained on the team for the following season. He made it into 48 games and even gained the respect of superstar Karl Malone as he helped the Lakers beat the Jazz in a regular season game in January of 1988. He blocked 4 shots (2 of which came at Malone's expense), scored 7 points and 5 rebounds in only 13 minutes.
"He came in and blocked some big shots and played some good defense, I can't say I'm surprised, though. Hey, he gets a check just like everybody else. Sooner or later, he has to get in there and prove he belongs. Tonight was one of those nights for him." - Karl Malone on Mike Smrek
Even though he helped the Lakers to back to back titles, he helped out tremendously on this 'say no to drugs' video. His rap game was definitely on point:
The Lakers ended up trading Smrek the following season to the San Antonio Spurs. He had his best year statistically that season but was released at the end of the season.
After that he had short stints with the Golden State Warriors and The Los Angeles Clippers. He also played for the Canadian national team as they attempted to qualify for the olympics. They fell short of their goal but Smrek did score 14 points against the Dream Team and threw down a dunk on David Robinson.
Smrek went on to play in Greece but a foot injury kept him off the court. He returned home and recovered in time to play for Canada in 1994 for the FIBA games.
He remained linked to basketball with his basketball camps and was invited to the Toronto Raptors' training camp in 1996 but did not make the team. That did not stop him from going overseas to Croatia to finish up his professional basketball career.
When his playing career was complete, he returned to his hometown in Ontario and worked in the construction industry as a carpenter and a construction technology instructor at a high school.
Even though he never was a superstar and had a funny sounding name, Mike Smrek made a name for himself in the NBA and became the first Canadian to own an NBA championship ring. It's been years since he was out of the NBA but he's definitely not forgotten. The No-Look Pass salutes Mike Smrek.
Authentic Mike Smrek merchandise:
Only 10 games as a Clipper but you can own his game-worn jersey!We're always up late. How about buying us a coffee? Or an energy drink!?