Oklahoma State played coy today, and left the most crucial question about what happened on Saturday night unanswered.
Multiple media outlets reported late Saturday night that Marcus Smart’s Shove Heard Round The World came because a fan, later identified as Texas Tech superfan Jeff Orr, had used some sort of racial language to taunt Smart in the final seconds of Texas Tech’s 65-61 win over Oklahoma State.
A Texas Tech official told The Oklahoman in the moments following the game that as Smart was led off the floor, he repeatedly said that Orr targeted him with a racial slur.
Sunday, that story changed. Oklahoma State declined to address what was said to prompt Smart’s reaction. Smart didn’t take any questions after accepting responsibility for his actions in a brief, heartfelt apology to Orr (by name, which was a nice touch), his teammates, coach, fans and people who look up to him.
OSU coach Travis Ford declined to discuss the details of the exchange between Smart and Orr. Privately, a handful of people close to the Oklahoma State program I contacted followed suit, refusing to confirm that Smart had claimed the incident was based in race.
Orr released a statement on Sunday and admitted he called Smart a "piece of crap" and "voluntarily" agreed to not attend any Texas Tech games, home or away, for the remainder of the season.
Texas Tech says it interviewed Orr, acquired a video and interviewed "numerous fans, photographers and arena personnel that were seated in the area surrounding him."
"Mr. Orr vehemently denied the accusation that he used a racial slur and no one in the vicinity of Mr. Orr heard such a slur," Texas Tech said in a release.
For now, that’s that. You won’t hear Texas Tech or OSU speak publicly about the incident again, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t questions that still don’t have answers.
Marcus Smart didn’t take any questions after his brief statement on Sunday, and not addressing what happened to make him cross an uncrossable line does one of the nation’s best players a gigantic disservice.
So what happened? There are four possibilities:
1) Everything happened like the public statements said they did
2) Orr is lying and OSU is inexplicably staying silent on the issue to erase any disputes and put the issue behind them
3) Smart lied to explain his outburst and had no evidence to support his claim once interviews were conducted and video was acquired
4) Orr is telling the truth and Smart misheard what was yelled
I’ll take what’s behind door No. 4, but doors No. 1 and 3 aren’t far from the realm of possibilities.
Ford spent much of time at the podium Sunday night testifying to Smart’s character and heart, and I don’t buy that Smart would lie outright about what was said to prompt his outburst. If he did, OSU might as well admit it before kicking off the Marcus Smart Redemption Tour.
Smart has had his issues, from flopping throughout his career to kicking a chair and leaving the bench against West Virginia last month, but over and over again, you hear testaments from the people closest to him about his leadership abilities and character. He’s a competitive guy who can feel a season that began with so much promise slipping away, and like he said on Sunday, he’s let his emotions–both from what’s happened in the moment and what’s happened to this season–get the best of him.
I don’t believe Smart is a man who would falsely accuse another man of using a racial slur.
If OSU knew Smart lied, covering that lie up only does him further damage and leaves a lesson unlearned.
Allowing Orr to spew racial insults at a player and allowing him to get away with it does the same. Orr doesn’t learn the damage those words can do and gets away with an egregious act relatively unscathed.
The more likely scenario is Smart heard something racial while tumbling into the stands in a loud arena that had just clinched a gigantic win. When Smart approached Orr in the stands, Orr said something else that prompted the shove.
The video Texas Tech released only has one clearly heard voice that sounds a lot like "you piece of crap," but nothing for whatever Orr said just before Smart pushed him.
Whether or not it was a racial remark matters. As someone who’s been called a "nigger" on at least four occasions throughout my life–twice by older, white men I had never met–I know the blind rage that comes from someone using a term that makes it clear they view you as less than a human.
That doesn’t make shoving Orr OK, but it also doesn’t mean Smart’s a good-for-nothing goon who’d going to make incidents like that a common occurrence during his NBA career.
If all Orr said was a "piece of crap," it’s fair to color Smart as a player whose skin needs some thickening. He’ll hear much worse from fans (and certainly opponents) in the years to come and I’m sure has already heard worse.
Orr attempted to push Smart’s buttons at the worst possible time: Immediately after a play sealed a loss for an ultra-competitive talent.
It produced a result that Orr never could have even expected.
So what was said to turn frustration into an action that will follow Smart for years?
It’s painfully obvious that both sides want the issue behind them. With plenty of fault to be handed out in Stillwater and Lubbock, that’s not surprising. But at some point in the future, publicly or in interviews with scouts in advance of June’s NBA Draft, Smart will have to discuss the issue again and answer the questions that didn’t get asked on Sunday.