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Gary Washburn | On Basketball

For Marcus Smart, there is no denying the pain as he grieves for his mother

Marcus Smart (left) and Gordon Hayward share a light moment at practice.
Marcus Smart (left) and Gordon Hayward share a light moment at practice. (barry chin/Globe staff)

He unapologetically started tearing up after talking about the difficulty of moving on without his mother and best friend, Camellia. Marcus Smart has done a lot of crying over the past week or so, using tears as a form of therapy.

At 24 years old, Smart lost his mother to cancer a few weeks after signing a contract that could make his family secure for a generation or more. Smart signed that contract knowing his mother may not live long enough to even enjoy the first check. She was sick, and Smart had to deal with the business of basketball as well as attend to her in Dallas.

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So Marcus Smart ain’t right and probably won’t be for a while. In between breaks at Celtics practice, the fifth-year guard from Oklahoma State thinks of her. When he drives home, she is on his mind. When he falls asleep, her face is there.

There is no denying the pain or fast tracking the mourning. It’s a process that Smart knows he has to endure while trying to carve out minutes and cement his role for a team with championship aspirations. He is not embarrassed by tearing up. He simply grabs a towel, wipes his face and continues to discuss the most important person in his life.

FROM 2014: Marcus Smart’s hard past drives his future

“It’s hard and I don’t think it ever gets easy,” Smart said Tuesday after the Celtics’ second practice on the first day of training camp at the Auerbach Center in Brighton. “There’s going to be times during the season that I’m going to be by myself or I’ve caught myself even now just breaking down. It’s not going to be easy. I have great teammates, coaching staff, and organization behind me that supports me in whatever I need.”

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Losing parents, regardless of their age or your age, is never easy. Part of you dies with them, those memories of mom or dad become even more sacred, those simple times with them more cherished, and there are always regrets about not spending more time with your mama.

During the summer, as a restricted free agent, Smart was basically separated from the organization while contract talks were in a stalemate. He signed his four-year contract extension on July 19, while his mother was in the final stages of battling cancer.

“I wish I wouldn’t have spent so much time on the contract deal, instead of with my mom,” Smart said. “I’m blessed enough to catch the amount of time I had with her, but you still feel bad. At the same time she was still here to see the signing and everything, so it was good.”

Smart reached out to former teammate Jae Crowder, whose mom died of cancer at age 51 on the same August 2017 night he was traded to the Cavaliers. Crowder told the Globe in January, “I have days where I don’t want to do [expletive]. I just want to sit there and think about her all day.”

“I’ve talked to Jae a lot about it,” Smart said. “And it’s still hard for him. I know what he’s going through. I appreciate his words of advice to help me get through it and his support as well.”

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While Smart mourns, he also realizes he is now the unquestioned leader of his family. He just signed a $52 million contract and has to make sure his family members are taken care of and affairs are in order. He is the man of the Smart family. That responsibly is not lost on him.

“We all know the saying, ‘God is never going to put anything on you more than you can bear,’ ” Smart said. “God gives his toughest battles to his toughest warriors, so if it’s meant for me to be this, I’m going to be all right. I got to continue to pray and keep my faith. I’m going to be all right. I’m up for the challenge.”

It’s likely a battle that won’t end for years, a process of moving forward that will require tears, fortitude, and support. It’s a lot for anyone to handle, and Smart already had lost an older brother to cancer and several family members and friends to unexpected deaths. He’s as prepared for these setbacks as one man can be, but again, he isn’t prepared at all, not for this, not for mama.

“Every training camp she’s been here,” Smart said, fighting off tears. “But it felt good to be out here around people who care. It’s just ironic that I have to go through something like this to get something like that, with that [contract]. It’s a lot of responsibility, but that’s what comes with the territory.”

The quandary for Smart is focusing fully on basketball when mentally, he can’t. Not yet. Those memories are fresh. He sees her face constantly. He is still dealing with the finality. Basketball will be used as a respite, as solace and as motivation because she is present. She is watching his every move.

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“It’s going to be hard but it’s not going to be that hard [to play] just for the simple fact that I’m playing for so much more than a lot of people are playing for,” he said. “When I get tired and I feel like I want to quit, I got something to remind me I can’t do that. My mom fought, and she fought all the way to the end. I feel bad because it’s selfish of us to go through that because we wanted her here. She fought. She’s in a better place, so I feel a little bit better.”


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.