Smush Parker: His feud with Kobe, journey back to NBA as a referee

Smush Parker: His feud with Kobe, journey back to NBA as a referee

NEW YORK CITY - As the NBA playoffs heat up, excitement in New York City isn't just confined to Madison Square Garden. On the iconic West 4th Street Courts, affectionately known as "The Cage" in Greenwich Village, the spirit of the game thrives. The Cage has been a proving ground for many legendary players, including Anthony Mason, who played for the Knicks, and Stephon Marbury. It’s here that we find former NBA player Smush Parker charting an unlikely path back to the league—not as a player, but as a referee.

Parker, a New York native, has a deep connection to The Cage, where both his parents played. "You get the best of Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. They all come here," Parker said during a recent visit to the courts with FOX 5 NY.

The regulars at the park remember him well, including one who joked, "We used to yell at him to get off the court. I probably was his hardest critic," one man told me.

Parker's career took him from high-flying dunks at The Cage to playing at the highest levels of the game.

"I don't just love the game," he told me. "I'm infatuated with it. I played six years in the NBA and 11 years overseas. So, a total of 17 years professionally."

Most notably, he played two years with the Los Angeles Lakers alongside legends like Kobe Bryant, where he achieved career highs. But their relationship was strained.

"It didn't come out of nowhere," he said.

In a 2007 interview, Smush Parker made headlines by calling his time with the Los Angeles Lakers overrated. His remarks quickly circulated, casting a shadow over his time with the team.

Bryant, known for his straightforward approach, didn’t take long to fire back. He criticized the overall quality of his teammates at the time, sparking an unlikely public dispute that made national headlines.

Reflecting on his public fallout with Bryant, Parker admits, "I said some harsh things. It just snowballed into something that was out of control. So, again, I take full responsibility for the things that ensued after that."

Despite the drama, Parker's love for the game has never wavered. In fact, he wants back in, not as a player, but as a referee. "Nobody likes the referees. It's a thankless job, but you can't play a game without 'em," says Parker, who has officiated everything from middle and high school to semi-pro games.

"I made it to the NBA as a player, which was an impossible feat. And making it back will be just as impossible." Smush Parker

We caught up with him right after he finished his first full college season as a referee. His unique perspective as a former player has enriched his understanding and appreciation of the game.

"I learned a lot more about the game of basketball as a referee than I did as a player," he claims.

His dreams of achieving the impossible began in "The Cage," and now his journey back to the NBA, this time in a referee's uniform, promises to be just as formidable.

"I'm trying to achieve the impossible twice in my life," Parker shared. "I made it to the NBA as a player, which was an impossible feat. And making it back will be just as impossible."

Only three players in NBA history have returned as official referees. The odds of doing either one are almost statistically impossible. We crunched the numbers, and it's about a 1 in 33 million chance of pulling it off. Maybe Smush will be one of them.