Remembering Sam Smith

Sam Smith impacted others tremendously through sports, beginning in high school. He played football and basketball for his hometown of Hazard, Kentucky, becoming a Kentucky high school basketball All-Star.

Sam later became one of the first black players to be recruited by the University of Louisville and the first black player to start for the Cardinals, leading the team in scoring as a sophomore. He transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College, where he won an NCAA championship in 1966, hitting a shot in the final seconds to win the game. He was a 2X All-American, a 2X NCAA South Region Most Outstanding Player, and a member of the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

After college, Sam was the 28th pick of the 1967 NBA draft but signed to play with the Minnesota Muskies of the competing American Basketball Association. In his pro debut, he scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Sam played in the ABA as a member of the Muskies, Kentucky Colonels, and Utah Stars, playing with and against many future Naismith Hall of Famers. He was an outstanding pro player and won a championship with Utah in 1971.

The ABA was one of the most crucial pro sports leagues in history, and Sam was a charter member, playing in the league for half of its existence. He was a pioneer in a league that brought to the NBA the 3-point shot, today’s fast up-tempo style of play, the all-star slam dunk competition, higher player salaries, and the hardship rule that allows young players to sign NBA contracts before finishing college. It is not an overstatement at all to say the NBA and today’s NBA players owe Sam and all other ABA players a tremendous debt of gratitude.

At Dropping Dimes, we’ll never forget Sam as a real and genuine guy who was so proud and protective of his family and humble about his accomplishments. He lived a good life and gave a great deal to others. Sam Smith was a fantastic athlete but an even more amazing man.

Rest In Peace, Sam.

Special thanks to Arthur Hundhausen for providing photographs of Sam Smith during his career in the ABA.