BOSTON— It’s been eight months since President of Basketball Operations Brad Stevens made one of the most shocking moves in recent years. Marcus Smart, a beloved C’s fan favorite, was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis. Such news created a mix of emotions, including surprise, disappointment, and uncertainty, both for Smart and the fans that supported him.
He returned to TD Garden for the first time Sunday, this time as a member of the Grizzlies. There was one message he wanted to convey to Celtics fans.
“Thank you, guys. I love you guys forever. You guys will always be in my heart, and Boston will always be here. Never forgotten.”
Embarking on a new journey, Smart will never forget the everlasting effect both the city and organization left on him. In return, he very much still feels a deep and enduring connection with the city and the fans.
“They allowed me to grow,” said Smart. “They allowed me to see a different side of myself, and they watched me become a man. My favorite thanks will always be here. They have definitely shaped my life in many ways than one.”
In his emotional return to Boston, Smart was given his flowers, and received a warm welcome with a tribute video. He was seen reuniting with his former teammates, and remained present on the Celtics sideline during warmups. He was accompanied by his wife, friends, and family.
In a packed media room, there were plenty of tears to go around. That is, except for Marcus Smart. He was all smiles, except when asked about his feelings when entering the visitors' locker room for the first time. In fact, Jayson Tatum was “surprised Smart didn’t cry, because that was special.”
“Oof. Smaller,” said Smart entering through the opposing team’s entrance. “It’s different, but it’s unique. I was able for nine years to sit in that locker room and experience the home crowd. I always had to hear about opposing teams coming, hearing the difference and what they feel. The uniqueness of being able to be on that side—now to understand how much power playing in the Garden really has.”
The guard was drafted by the Celtics organization at just twenty years old. Selected out of Oklahoma State as the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, he helped shaped the organization’s defensive culture, and was a recipient of the 2022 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Marcus Smart reflects on his time in Boston pic.twitter.com/Q38S7bidUQ— Sara Jane Gamelli (@SaraJGamelli) February 4, 2024
Since his departure, the Celtics remain a top defensive team, and own the best NBA’s best record at 38-12. Holding the best net rating in the league at 9.8, Boston remains a serious title contender. Smart will always be rooting for his brothers from afar.
“It’s amazing to see,” Smart said prior to the game. “For me, to see my brothers from all around in every sport—doing what they love to do and doing it exceptionally well and at a very elite level — especially this group of guys. It’s a special relationship I built with these guys. I’ve seen these guys take a lot of criticism over the years, and I’m just happy for them, clicking and getting it together. I’m very ecstatic for those guys, and I’m very happy for them.”
At such a young age, the Dallas native has spent more than half his life in Beantown, calling it a “second home.” So humble at the podium, Smart expressed gratitude for the C’s over the years.
“I spent a little bit over half my life here,” said the former Celtic. “Just the way Boston took me in. We all know playing in this city isn’t the easiest. There were plenty of times where they let us know about it, especially me. Everything is always great here, and I speak for everybody, opposing teams and guys that have played here. There’s nothing like playing in this place, and playing in this city with these fans.”
Smart was a player that represented everything the Celtics stand for: grit, toughness, hustle, loyalty, and leadership. Not always healthy, he donned his notorious green hair, and gave it his all night in and night out. Always wearing his emotions on his sleeve, he was truly loved and embraced by the city of Boston.
With Smart on the roster, Boston made nine straight playoff runs, including five appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals. During the 2021-222 season, he helped lead Boston to their first Finals appearance since the 2009-2010 season.
After a heart-breaking loss to the Miami Heat in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals, Brad Stevens made the difficult decision to reconstruct the roster. In doing so, Smart understands, as tough as it is, basketball is a business.
I understand business, and I understand this business,” Smart said. “I tell people to this day, I would make the same business decision as well. At the end of the day, I’m a business man as well.”
Although he doesn’t have any ill will towards the organization, the former Bostonian did admit he was hurt and blindsided by the trade. While he hasn’t fully dealt with all of the emotions, he has indeed moved on, and there are several factors that have helped him cope with it all.
“Between getting married and the wedding and everything personally I’ve been dealing with, it’s helped me cope,” said Smart. “It definitely hurt, but it didn’t hurt as hard as I thought it would because of that. All I ask is that—could’ve given a heads up or just a simple, ‘hey, been here nine years...we just want to let you know what's going on.’”
Despite this change in team dynamics, Smart appears to be leveraging the experience and leadership skills he acquired in Boston to make an impact in Memphis. He’s embraced a leadership role and guided a group of young players. On Sunday, the Grizzlies had thirteen players on the injury report and fielded a team of 10-day contracts and two-way players. Even still, Smart was in the middle of coaching his teammates up.
“I pride myself on being more than just a basketball player. Being here in the city of Boston has really opened that field for me to show who I really am as a person. The things I do off the court really show that”— Sara Jane Gamelli (@SaraJGamelli) February 4, 2024
Marcus Smart is so much more than a hooper. pic.twitter.com/7StrfWuXBQ
“I’m constantly talking to those guys. They are constantly asking questions. They are a young group, and they want to be the best they can be. They saw a group of guys put our sweat and tears trying to do that. I’m definitely constantly talking to those guys with my experience, what I went through, with this team in Boston. It allows me to help keep the team in the positive mindset.”