Every Boston team that captures the hearts of the city seems to have one player who is a hard-nosed grinder with a blue-collar sensibility. Equal parts grit and heart, this Boston athlete will become a folk hero and never pay for a drink in Beantown. Guys like Teddy Bruschi and Matthew Slater from the 2000s Patriots teams, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar.
Boston doesn’t forget these men, and the fact that they brought championships to Title Town, makes them all the more legendary.
The Boston Celtics have also had their fair share of these players as well, from the days of Bill Russell and Red Auerbach to Brad Stevens and Isaiah Thomas. But if there’s one player who has defined the Boston mentality of playing until you can no longer walk: it’s Celtics guard Marcus Smart.
But who instilled that drive and determination in Marcus? His older brother, Todd Westbrook.
Marcus Smart’s Brother Helped Him Became an Elite Defender
Smart’s family wasn’t your typical archetypal make-up. Todd and his brother Jeff Westbrook shared the same mother, Camellia Smart, but had a different father from Marcus and his brother Michael Smart. Marcus’ father, Billy Frank Smart, came into the picture decades after Jeff and Todd were born. But that didn’t stop the Smart family from banding together and creating a loving family.
Marcus Osmond Smart’s brother Todd Westbrook was a baller. According to Marcus via CelticsWire, Todd was “the scorer of the family.” Westbrook, who grew up with Marcus in Flower Mound, Texas, was ferocious when he took the floor.
“He didn’t play any defense at all … he’s the only one [in the family]. The other two of my brothers, they play defense and they’re defensive-minded. But him, he was straight score-the-ball, that was all he cared about.”
It’s beginning to become clear as to why Smart is an elite defensive basketball player. If you need more evidence, check out his NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award. When you’re growing up around a guy who can enter a gym and just start draining buckets without even stretching? You learn that defense is the best offense.
But there was something even more incredible about Westbrook, and that was his tenacity.
Todd’s Battle With Cancer
When Todd was first diagnosed with cancer, the doctors found a tumor behind his left eye. One of the first days that Todd had to go to chemotherapy was on a high school game day. But there was no way Todd wasn’t going to take the floor.
“We checked into the hospital and he’s going to get his chemo, and he’s got this tumor behind his left eye that’s just closed his eye shut,” Smart explained years later.
“Literally about 20 minutes before the game, they said he comes walking in. It’s a full, loaded gym. Everybody, they’re kind of sad because he’s not going to be there, they understand what’s going on. And then they see him walk in and walk out with his jersey and warm ups, and it’s like ‘What are you doing? Who checked you out of the hospital?’ and he’s like ‘Myself.’ He was like, ‘If I’m going to die, and God’s going to take my life, or I’m going to leave this world, I’m going to do it my way, and I’m doing what I love to do, and that’s playing basketball. This is what makes me happy.'”
“They said he went out with one eye closed and scored I think like 30-plus points and just shot the ball lights out,” explained Smart on Celtics podcast “The View from the Rafters.” “Just to hear my family talk about it, it was something that always stuck with me.”
Todd would battle leukemia for the next decade and a half, during which time Marcus began to take care of him when he could in between basketball tournaments.
“The thing is, he never really allowed you to feel sorry for him,” Marcus added. “Every time you saw him he put a smile on his face. If you didn’t know who he was or what he was going through, you would never know he was in pain or he was struggling.”
Todd’s battle with leukemia would end in 2004, when he was 33. His death hit Marcus hard.
“It was tough,” he explained after being drafted by Boston. “I got really down as a kid. Depression. I didn’t know what was going on. It was a tough time not just for me but my family.”
But after a few rough spells, Marcus straightened himself out and found solace on the court. This basketball IQ earned him a spot on the Oklahoma State Cowboys basketball team as a point guard, but his competitive nature often led to altercations, including one with a Texas Tech fan during a game. The success he found at Oklahoma State propelled the Texas hoops prodigy to become the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Smart Wears No. 36 in Honor of Todd
Marcus wears No. 36 for the Celtics and like most athletes has a special connection to his number. The No. 6 comes from his first-round draft number, but the No. 3 is for Todd, who is also commemorated on Marcus’ arm by a big “3” tattoo. But that’s not the only piece of Todd that Marcus carries with him on the court.
“I had this mindset where every day I go out here,” Marcus added on the “Rafters” podcast. “I have to play like it’s my last because they could possibly be my last, and my oldest brother didn’t have a chance to live out his dream.”
Being a selfless teammate and family member is nothing new for Smart, though.
Smart’s mother, who would pass away from bone marrow cancer in 2018, once told a story where she had noticed that Marcus was wearing shoes that had been worn down so much the soles had holes. When a relative offered to buy him a fresh pair of Nike’s, Marcus instead pointed to a pair of $19 shoes.
When the Celtics take the floor of the TD Garden, Marcus Smart carries an entire city on his back. It’s a heavy load, but it’s not a burden. Why? Because Marcus has been raised by fighters and he’s not going down without a fight.