Smush Parker fought hard to get to the NBA and the Brooklyn native didn’t exactly take a common route. But now, out of the league once more, Parker says he’ll be content if he never returns.
“I’m fine with going back across the water if I have to,” said the 28-year-old guard, who played this past winter in China. “I would like to play in the NBA again and make a name for myself, but basketball is basketball anywhere you go. And if I get a good opportunity to travel and live abroad and play basketball, I’ll decide to do that.”
The 6-foot-4 Parker initially attended Washington Irving HS in Manhattan, but didn’t play much because of grade issues. He spent his senior season at Newtown in Queens before going off to Southern Idaho, a Division I JUCO. Parker was there for a year before transferring to Fordham University.
He was with the Rams for just one season when he entered his name into the NBA Draft. Parker wasn’t drafted, but signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he played 66 games in 2002-03.
“The journey I took to the NBA is the longest you could possibly take,” Parker said. “Two high schools, one junior college, one year of Division I at Fordham – not North Carolina, not Duke: Fordham. I had to play in three summer leagues that summer, went to 20 workouts with 20 teams. I took a long way in with a never-die attitude.”
It did pay off. The Cavs released him after that season, though he was a solid back-up, and he bounced around – from the CBA, to Greece, to the Development League. Parker earned cups of coffee with the Detroit Pistons and the Phoenix Suns, but couldn’t hook on.
In 2005, he finally caught his big break. Parker had a good summer league with the Los Angeles Lakers and beat out veterans Aaron McKie and Sasha Vujacic for the starting point guard spot. He ended up averaging 11.5 points and 3.7 assists per game that season and the Lakers brought him back for 2006-07 season.
He counts his experience in Los Angeles as one of the highlights of his career.
“I played for one of the most historic franchises in the history of the NBA,” Parker said. “And if it doesn’t get any better, I started two years straight.”
Parker averaged 11.1 points per game in 2006-07, but lost his starting job late in the season to Jordan Farmar. He signed with the Miami Heat in July 2007, but played in just nine games before being waived following an altercation with a parking attendant. The Clippers picked him up for the remainder of the season, but renounced his rights that July.
Just like that, Parker went from starting point guard on one of the NBA’s signature teams to out of the league altogether. He started the 2008-09 season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBDL before signing with Guandong Southern Tigers Hongyuan of the Chinese Basketball Association.
Parker said he enjoyed China, especially once he got over the culture shock. He averaged 17.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game to lead his team to the CBA title.
He played in the NBA Summer League last week with the Toronto Raptors and averaged 8.0 points, 2.8 assists and 2.0 steals in four games. Parker was back in New York on Tuesday at Nike Pro City at Hunter College. He had 21 points, including four 3-pointers, to lead the X-Men to a 115-94 win over the Uptowners. But he’s not sure where he’ll be this winter.
“Right now I’m just weighing my options,” Parker said. “It would be nice to get back in the league and everyone has the dream of playing in the NBA and becoming an All-Star and winning a championship,” Parker said. “But I’m 28 years old and I’ve been doing it since I was 21. … If you get a chance to travel the world and play basketball, do something that you love, why not do it?”