Published on January 19th, 2018 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Tyler Smith On His Basketball Career And Writing “Called For Traveling”
When it comes to sports or entertainment, the average fan only thinks about the big leagues. To them, if the person isn’t on the cover of magazines, appearing on television or talked about regularly, they probably aren’t a true professional. However, the truth is that there are lots of people behind the scenes making a living — often doing work for the top-tier talent — in addition to those people who are successful through alternative or independent means.
Tyler Smith’s affiliation with the NBA may have been short-lived, but the former Penn State star was a professional basketball player. Over the course of his 11 years as a pro, he played in seven countries along four continents. Smith wrote this about this journey in Called For Traveling: My Nomadic Life Playing Pro Basketball Around The World. Funny and relatable, one does not need to be a sports fan to enjoy Smith’s story. He writes in a conversational manner, making Called For Traveling a fast read.
On behalf of The Hype Magazine, I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with Smith, who was both entertaining and honest. More on Smith can be found on the Talos Press website.
To someone who hasn’t yet read your book, how would you describe it? Do you like the term “memoir?”
Tyler Smith: It’s a light read that anyone can enjoy as you don’t have to be a basketball junkie to really get some good laughs and get pulled in. It’s told as if we are sitting and trading stories over a cup of coffee, and it touches on a number of topics like travel, basketball, culture, family, and faith. I include a lot of humor throughout because some of these stories are just unbelievable. Just remember, I’m no John Grisham, so go easy on me.
What inspired you to write the book? I know you’d been keeping a journal and had a lot of great stories, but did someone really push you to turn your stories and memories into a book?
Tyler Smith: While I was playing overseas, I would send out mass emails to friends and family telling these stories of living and playing all over the world and all the chaos that comes with it. The feedback from people was tremendous, and a number of them suggested that it would make a nice book someday. One of my life goals was to write a book, and maybe only my mom’s book club would read it, but at least I would have done it and I could share the stories with my kids someday.
Is there a takeaway or message you hope for readers to come away with?
Tyler Smith: First off, I hope people laugh. I want them to see that it’s OK not to take yourself too seriously. Sometimes we need to pause and look around us and say, “this is ridiculous.” Also, I hope people will see that there is a very big God who cares deeply for people, more than we can imagine. My faith in Jesus really helped me through some very challenging and stressful times. He doesn’t promise us a perfect easy life by any means. But He promises to be with us every step of the way.
Your book doesn’t provide the most optimistic take on pursuing a professional basketball career. At what point did all of these experiences that were painful or weird start to feel amusing?
Tyler Smith: From Day 1, I had to laugh at all of the madness that I found myself in. The inability to understand the languages around me. How to get anything done, like find a doctor that could help my sick kid. Usually the other Americans on my team would shake their heads with me because we had an entirely different sense of “normal” when it came to basketball, travel, and culture. But honestly, I truly enjoyed every single country I went to and every team that I played for. The people were fantastic in so many different cities. I make light of a lot of the situations, but it’s because I love them deep down — like when you tease your family. You love them, but you still have to give them a hard time when they are being crazy.
Speaking of amusement, did the Harlem Globetrotters ever come onto your radar as a career prospect? Do you know people who wound up in that world?
Tyler Smith: I’m assuming you mean the team that the Globetrotters pounded every night, the Washington Generals! (laughs) I had a conversation with someone once about the possibility of playing for them, but it never made it any further than a phone call.
The title of your book is, of course, a pun. When in the creative process did you come up with the title?
Tyler Smith: For a while it was going to be titled “Foreign Floors” because the playing floors were so terrible and unique in some places. My friend Ben Sturgill, who I played against in Uruguay, came up with that and I thought it was perfect. One day Called For Traveling came to me and it took the title to the next level. First, the traveling violation is the hardest rule adjustment for Americans to make when they go play overseas. Plus, teams called me to travel to play for them. And I also felt in some ways that God had given me an ability and desire to play basketball, so in a sense I was called to travel in that way, too.
Has writing the book led old teammates or people from your past to reach out?
Tyler Smith: I didn’t realize how much fun it would be to reconnect with so many friends and teammates from around the world. I had guys in Europe, South America, and Asia asking how they could get it. Thankfully they’ve liked it, or at least they are good liars and tell me they laughed their way through it. And thank you Amazon! They can ship it easily to all these countries rather than people spending more on shipping than the actual book if it is destined for Italy or Japan.
These days, are you able to watch basketball as a fan?
Tyler Smith: I love watching games, especially Penn State. But I don’t watch as much as I used to. This whole “work” and “family” thing tends to get most of my minutes. But whenever I go to games, it’s very tempting to want to walk to the scorer’s table and check in.
When was the last time you stepped on a basketball court? Do you have a hoop at home?
Tyler Smith: So I’m pretty much a terrible father as we do not have a hoop in our driveway. But, I do coach my nine-year old daughter’s team and the first practice consisted of learning the names of the lines and where they were on the court. I play in an old guy’s league, which is really fun because I enjoy playing. There’s refs and a scoreboard, neither of which are usually right, but it still is a blast to go out and run up and down.
Are you still considering Masa as the name of your fourth child?
Tyler Smith: Masa is a strong name. Probably means “roaring lion” or “the chosen one.” And the true Masa from my Hitachi team would be well-deserving. But, baby #4 would have to be an act of God as we — I — have taken extreme measures to eliminate the possibility of me producing more offspring. Plus, my wife would probably… definitely… have the final say in the name department. “Thor Zorro Smith” still has a nice ring to it for our nine-year old daughter and I tell her that she can change it to that any time she is ready. (laughs)
Family and basketball aside, how do you like to spend your free time?
Tyler Smith: I like making my kids and wife laugh. I enjoy reading as there are so many fascinating people and stories. I love Navy SEAL books especially, as those guys are so inspiring by what they are able to push through and accomplish. I like working out as well. You never know if there may be one more contract out there for me. (laughs)
Finally, Tyler, any last words for the kids?
Tyler Smith: There are two things that we control in life: our effort and our attitude. So when you are facing something challenging, put everything you have into it and work your tail off. And DECIDE to have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE. Negative attitudes don’t accomplish anything. And they don’t inspire anyone. No one wants to be around Negative Nancy. Besides our effort and attitude, what do we really control? Nada. We can’t even control if our bodies get sick. We can’t control what crazy things our families or friends do. But we CAN control how we react. I’d also encourage people to take a look at why we are here. If there really is a God that made us and if Jesus really is who He says he is, then it’s worth checking Him out.