Willard Christopher "Will" Smith, Jr. (born September 25, 1968) is a retired NBA basketball player and currently a sportscaster for NBC Sports. Smith played four years of college basketball as a shooting guard at Pittsburgh, where he, along with teammate Paul Young, helped turn the Panthers into an elite program, going to the Final Four in 1990 and 1991, losing to Kansas both years in overtime.
He was the third pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, going to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he was moved to point guard. In 1993-1994, he won the NBA scoring title, regular-season MVP award and the Finals MVP award as he led the "Breakout Bucks" to their first-ever NBA title in a seven-game series against the New York Knicks. He won the season MVP in 1996 as well as the Finals MVP, leading the Bucks to the title that year as well. He won his third championship in Milwaukee in 1999. Following the 2000 season, Smith was unexpectedly traded to the Kansas City Kings, where he came off the bench to help provide senior leadership to the young team in winning the Western Conference, although the Kings fell to the 76ers in six games in the 2001 Finals. Smith played two more years with the Kings before being cut prior to the 2003 playoffs having missed significant time to injuries. In his final season, Smith played with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Houston Rockets before retiring in 2004.
In 2005, Smith signed a ten-year contract with NBC Sports as a sportscaster, a job he currently holds.
Smith was not heavily recruited coming out of high school, and was mostly considered an afterthought in Pittsburgh's well-regarded 1987 class. However, he impressed head coach Mitch Junker during fall practice and was an important bench contributor late in the 1987-88 season, helping spot senior shooting guard Mevin Williams. During the 1988 tournament, in which the Panthers advanced to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1970, Smith had 48 points in three games and saw significant playing time in the Sweet Sixteen against the Kentucky Wildcats, who wound up defeating the Panthers 77-60.
His sophomore year, Smith was made the starter at shooting guard alongside fellow sophomore starters Paul Young at center and Michael DeBose at point. The Panthers became known as the "Super Sophs" as they had a breakout season in 1988-89, winning the Northeastern Conference in the regular season and taking second place at the NEC Tournament in New York City, earning the Panthers a 2-seed in the East Region. The Panthers advanced to the regional final, squaring them off against eventual national champion Notre Dame. The Irish defeated the Panthers 81-77 thanks in large part to a late three-point shot by Irish guard Mike Chapman and a failed three-pointer by Young. Smith was named Panther of the Year due to his play in the tournament, outshining both Young and DeBose.
The 1989-90 season was a breakout year for Smith, in which he became the undisputed leader of the team. Smith led the Panthers to their second consecutive NEC regular season championship and made them the first NEC team to win both the regular season title and the conference title in the same year, defeating basketball archrival Massachusetts in double overtime. At the tournament, the Panthers defeated Oregon in their regional final to advance to their first-ever Final Four appearance. Pittsburgh easily dispatched Montana State before losing 100-96 in overtime to Kansas in the championship. Smith was once again named Panther of the Year and placed third in voting for the Naismith Award and fourth in voting for AP National Player of the Year Award.
Smith nearly decided to enter the 1990 NBA Draft, but decided not to after being advised by coach Junker that he would be a late first-round pick. Instead, Smith stayed at Pittsburgh. His two 1987-class co-stars, Young and DeBose, both left a year early and the Panthers became undeniably Smith's team. With a mix of youth and veteran experience around him, Smith played a hybrid shooting and point guard position Junker titled "the Joker" and he led them to a third consecutive NEC Championship, though the Panthers would lose in the first round of the conference tournament. Regarded as an afterthought in the tournament, Smith scored more points than any player in the tournament and led the Panthers past the Oregon Ducks in the regional final to reach a second straight Final Four, pitting them against Kansas once again. Despite leading late in the second half, Kansas star and 1991 Naismith winner Carl Clinton scored a three-pointer to send the game to overtime, where the Jayhawks were once again victorious in overtime, 94-90. Smith finished his career as Pittsburgh's all-time leading scorer, only two-time Naismith Finalist, a two-time first team All-American, and the winningest career player. His number 3 was retired 1993.
Smith was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks with the third pick in the 1991 NBA Draft, behind Carl Clinton and Oregon's Ray Pisatolli. In his rookie year, Smith mostly stayed on the bench while being converted to play point guard - regardless, he saw significant time late in the season. In 1992-93, Smith was made the starting point guard and helped lead the Bucks to their first playoff appearance since 1986, guiding them to the Western Conference semifinals, where they were defeated by the conference champion Los Angeles Lakers.
1993-94 was Smith's NBA breakout season, in which he erupted to lead the league in scoring, winning both the scoring title and regular season MVP in guiding the Bucks to the West's No. 2 seed along with teammate James Jeffries. The Bucks went to seven games in the conference final against the Lakers, winning on a late Smith three-pointer to play the New York Knicks in the Finals. The Knicks jumped out to a three-game lead before Smith and Jeffries exploded for the most points scored in Finals history by two players - with Smith putting up 45 on his own in Game Six - to win the Finals with a four-game win streak. Smith was made Finals MVP and he quickly emerged as the league's most promising young superstar.
Smith never saw the same kind of statistical success. In 1994-95, he placed fifth in scoring and third in the MVP hunt, but his Bucks were swept in the Western semifinals by the Tacoma Supersonics, a series in which Smith was largely negated by Len Bias and former teammate Paul Young. He rebounded in 1994-95, leading the league in scoring until the final week of the season when he was eclipsed by Boston's Joe Randolph, and he won the MVP after leading the top-seeded Bucks (with the best regular-season record in the NBA) to another Finals appearance, this time against the Detroit Pistons. The Bucks shocked the world by sweeping Detroit in four games, with Smith leading the Bucks in points and winning the Finals MVP. Following the 1996 season, Smith signed one of the largest contracts in NBA history for eight more years.
Smith's production declined in 1996-97, the Bucks' final year in the Western Conference, and the Bucks were only a five seed in the playoffs. While Jeffries took over to lead the Bucks to the conference championship, they lost in five games to the Lakers with two late-game meltdowns sealing their fate. Following the two late defensive meltdowns, the Bucks drafted star center Mike Ford from Kansas in the draft and traded picks and bench players for defensive stalwarts Nikolai Polyakov from the Knicks and George Andrews from the Heat. The shakeup worked - the Bucks became a tough defensive team with Smith still leading the offense, and he flourished once again in the 1997-98 season, the Bucks now playing in the weaker East as a result of expansionary realignment. The team would win 64 games, most of any team that year, and Smith placed fourth in MVP voting. However, in the conference championship, the favored and top-seeded Bucks lost in a stunning seven-game series to the Matadors. The next season, 1998-99, Smith suffered sporadic injuries and he had difficulty putting up the same numbers as before. With Jeffries and Ford leading the defense and offense, Smith had been relegated from undisputed star to key contributor. The Bucks took the East's two-seed, defeated the New York Knicks in a tense six-game series and defeated the Lakers in the Finals to win their third, and to date last, championship.
Smith's production declined even further due to a lingering ankle injury for most of 1999-2000, and he was sidelined permanently during the Bucks' disastrous playoff meltdown in the first round against six-seed Philadelphia, which swept the mighy Bucks. Smith was diagnosed with a broken ankle in the second game of the series, in what turned out to be his last game as a Buck.
Kansas City Kings
In June of 2000, there was rampant speculation that the clearly disgruntled Smith, who had played poorly two years in a row thanks to injuries and had played from the bench for most of the last season, would be traded along with his monster contract. Smith, however, adamantly refused to comment, stating that he had no desire to be traded and wanted instead to remain the centerpiece around whom the Bucks built. The Bucks traded him the next day to the Kansas City Kings for a second-round draft pick and two players.
As a King, Smith's role would be that of a bench-contributor and veteran leader in the locker room. While the local press believed his ignanimous exit from Milwaukee would be a problem, Smith embraced the role, seeking to end comments that he was self-absorbed. He voluntarily reworked his contract so the Kings could sign prominent young free agents and excelled as a sixth man, helping the Kings win the third seed in the NBA and won the Sixth Man of the Year Award. In the 2000-01 playoffs, Smith roughly split minutes with starting point guard Jayvon Turner and helped lead the Kings to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1987. However, the Kings were defeated in six games by the Philadelphia 76ers, failing to win their third championship. In early 2001-02, Smith partially tore his ACL, sidelining him for the rest of the season, although he recovered in time to contribute from the bench in the 2002 playoffs, when the Kings were bumped in the first round by Vancouver.
2002-03 proved to be another injury-riddled season. Smith missed cumulatively half of the year with ankle pain, knee trouble and finally a broker wrist. He angrily confronted a Tacoma reporter who referred to him as "Mr. Glass" after a game and was suspended for five games as a result. The Kings narrowly missed the playoffs and Smith was cut at the end of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets
Smith signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2003-04 season and, while healthy, did not significantly contribute in points or in minutes. At the trade deadline, he was surprisingly sent to the Rockets, where he started at point guard but did not contribute many points, and during the playoffs was benched during the first-round loss to the Lakers in favor of Chris Carter. While Smith and the Rockets both entertained the notion of him remaining with the team for 2004-05, his diagnosis of a hairline fracture in his bad ankle following the playoffs led to Smith deciding to retire at age 35. His number 3 was retired by Milwaukee in December of 2004 and he was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2011 as a Buck.