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Back By Popular Demand Charles Smith--no, not that Charles Smith--is giving the Spurs a boost

Last year Charles Smith spent many sleepless nights in his
two-bedroom apartment in Udine, Italy, watching NBA games by way
of a satellite dish. Smith, a 6'4" swingman, was scoring 24.2
points a game for Snaidero Udine in the Italian A1 league, yet
each evening he stayed up until dawn, glued to the league that
had turned him out. "I would watch the NBA games and think, Man,
I want to be back there," Smith says.

Cut to the white easel in the visitors' locker room at
Washington's MCI Center on Jan. 15, where the starting matchups
for that night's nationally televised game between the Wizards
and the Spurs had been written in black marker. There it was,
third from the top: M. JORDAN-C. SMITH. In his first NBA start
in three seasons Smith harassed Jordan into a 5-of-21 shooting
night while scoring a career-high 21 points in a 96-91 San
Antonio win. "Coming from where I have," Smith said after the
game, "it's a dream come true."

If Smith's name is already familiar to NBA fans, that's not
primarily his doing. He is the fourth Charles Smith to play in
the league, making it the most common name in NBA history. The
Spurs' Charles Smith says he was excited when he got to play in
Italy against the former Celtics guard who shares his name. "I
rooted for him at Georgetown because I liked to hear my name on
TV," says Smith, who prefers the tag Spider, the nickname his
high school coach at Fort Worth (Texas) Dunbar gave him for his
preternaturally long arms.

After leaving New Mexico in 1997 as the Lobos' alltime leading
scorer, Smith was drafted by the Heat with the 26th pick but
shipped to the Clippers midway through his rookie season. He
lasted a season and a half in L.A., starting 10 games before the
Clippers waived him in October 1999. After a year with the
Rockford Lightning of the CBA, Smith headed to Italy. Finally,
after a 35-point explosion for a Spurs summer-league squad in
July, he signed a guaranteed two-year deal worth $1.1 million.

Smith had logged only 16 minutes through the first 15 games when
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called his name with 1:15 to go in
the first quarter against Washington on Dec. 4. "I thought 1:15
was left in the half and someone must be in foul trouble," Smith
says. "When I saw on the scoreboard it was still the first
quarter, I was like, Damn!"

Smith scored 10 points in 26 minutes, the first of five straight
games in double figures. At week's end he was averaging 8.8
points thanks to his long-range shooting and his ability to get
to the rim. Popovich prizes him even more for his defensive
prowess, which Smith displayed last week in his matchup with
Jordan. His Airness had a shot blocked by Smith, tossed up an
air ball and was even whistled for traveling. "That's the first
time I was guarded by a Charles Smith," Jordan said. "This one
is young and definitely getting better. He helps the Spurs

That's crucial because Spurs point guard Tony Parker is nursing
a sprained ankle and defensive stopper Bruce Bowen could miss
six weeks with a broken right middle finger. Those injuries mean
Smith will get a lot more minutes, which is fine with Popovich.
"I have an affinity for guys with something to prove," Popovich
says. "Now that Charles is a little older and more mature, it's
his turn."