Even as a kid, Bernard Smith - who was named the new assistant coach of the Dakota Wizards on Wednesday - was willing to go the extra mile for basketball.
Growing up in Philadelphia, Smith was a huge fan of the 76ers. When he was a teenager Philly had great teams - Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones. But for Smith, an aspiring point guard, his favorite was Maurice Cheeks.
Smith couldn't afford tickets, but would watch every game on television - until the P.A. announcer at the Spectrum would announce that two minutes remained.
"We'd run out and sneak on the subway," Smith said. "By the time we'd get to the arena, the players would be coming out. We'd go collect autographs, shoes, headbands, wristbands."
Eventually Cheeks noticed Smith and asked him if he came to all the games. Smith said he was embarrassed, but told Cheeks that he couldn't afford to go to any of them.
"He told me, ‘Don't even call me for tickets. I'm leaving you tickets for every game,' " Smith said.
Cheeks made good on that promise, becoming a lifelong friend, and eventually Smith's mentor.
Smith went on to play basketball, earning All-Public League honors in Philadelphia and going on to play at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) College before a knee injury ended his career.
Smith landed a sales job with the 76ers in 1996, but that wasn't the position he really wanted.
"It was my burning desire to be in basketball operations," he said. "Video, scouting, I didn't care."
Smith got his break by convincing the team's video coordinator to let him help out, learning to break down and edit film during his lunch breaks. It took six years - and a couple of turnovers.
Cheeks, who was an assistant with the 76ers, was hired to be head coach in Portland in 2001. The following season he offered Smith the chance to be his video coordinator if he was willing to move to Oregon.
"Hey, I would have been willing to move to the moon for an opportunity like that," he said.
After two seasons, including a stint with the Portland Fire of the WNBA, Smith was promoted to assistant coach with the Blazers. When Cheeks went back to Philly to coach the 76ers in 2005, he brought along Smith as part of his coaching staff. He worked there for the next three-plus seasons.
"Everything came full circle," Smith said. "For a kid who grew up in south Philadelphia, it was a dream come true."
Wizards head coach Rory White liked Smith's background working in video and with player development.
"I do watch a lot of film, so I like that he knows how to break down film," White said. "And he knows strategy he knows how to game plan and he knows how to work with players.
"He has a lot of credibility, working on the NBA level, and he got a strong recommendation from Mo Cheeks," White added. "He started from the bottom and worked all the way up, and that says a lot about him."
Smith will be joining White in Washington D.C. this weekend. White is currently spending some time working with the Washington Wizards, one of their affiliates. Dakota also will be holding an open tryout this weekend.
n NOTES: White said Renaldo Major and Darren Cooper have told him they plan on returning next season, though he noted that could change. ... Lester Hudson, who was assigned to the Wizards by Memphis last season, is currently vying for a spot with Washington. He could be assigned to Dakota again. Although Hudson has indicated he would rather play overseas then spend a full season in the D-League, if Washington told him he was close, that could change. "He's playing great," White said. "Hopefully we'll see him again this year."