Basketball

Smits retires over sore feet

Rik Smits finally found a way to relieve the chronic pain in his feet and knees. He retired.

The 34-year-old native of the Netherlands, who spent his entire 12-year NBA career with the Indiana Pacers, made the announcement at Conseco Fieldhouse on Wednesday.

"Last year, I was ready to retire, but I worked out during the summer and my feet felt good," Smits said.

"This time, I worked out and the aches and pains were coming back and my knees started hurting."

Smits admitted he made the decision weeks ago but, like last year, was asked by Pacers' president Donnie Walsh to reconsider.

"Last year, it didn't take long, I knew it was right to come back," Smits said. "This year, it didn't happen.

"If I can't go 100 percent, I'd rather not do it at all."

Smits, a seven-foot-four centre, averaged 14.8 points and 6.1 rebounds over his career and leaves the Pacers as their all-time leader in blocked shots with 1,111.

His 867 games played for the Pacers is second only to Reggie Miller.

He also ranks second in minutes played (23,100), field goals attempted (10,461), field goals made (5,301) and defensive rebounds (3,746).

Yet the closest Smits came to winning an NBA title was last season's six-game loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals.

He is the third starter and fourth player to leave the club over the off-season.

Head coach Larry Bird also chose not to return after fulfilling his three-year contract.

Smits told incoming head coach Isiah Thomas and several teammates of his decision to retire on Tuesday.

"Our expectations are drastically different now," Thomas said. "He was a key to the Pacers winning.

"A lot of positions you can replace, but when you lose a Rik Smits, you can't replace guys like that."

"Rik is a guy we couldn't replace," Walsh echoed. "With some of the other departures, we knew would could replace their positions.

"But Rik was the mainstay of the team in a lot of ways."

Problem was, Smits struggled to stay healthy in recent years.

He had surgery to repair nerve damage in both feet in 1996, yet still missed 30 games of the 1996-97 season and nine more in 1997-98.

Though he missed only four games in the past two seasons, the pain in Smits' size-21 feet became too much to bear and reduced his effectiveness.

Daily icings and foot massages helped, but he managed only 12.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game last season, his lowest averages since 1990-91.

"I always felt like I would retire at or near the top," Smits said. "This past year, I felt I went a little over the top.

"I said from the beginning as soon as I'm going downhill or I'm over the hill, I'd like to call it quits," he added.

Smits' departure leaves the Pacers dangerously thin in the paint, with Sam Perkins and Zan Tabak as their only legitimate centres.

Six-foot-ten forward Jermaine O'Neal is another option after being acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers for Dale Davis.

Smits, meantime, plans to remain in Indiana for at least two more years until his wife, Candice, completes her schooling at Butler University.

"I'm sure I won't miss training camp at all," Smits said. "But it's going to be tough watching the guys on TV or coming here for some games, which I'm sure I'll do."

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