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Rik Smits: The “Dunkin’ Dutchman” of the Indiana Pacers

Standing at a towering 7 feet 4 inches, Rik Smits is the tallest player ever to play for the Indiana Pacers and one of the tallest players in NBA history (there’s a tie between Manute Bol and Gheorghe Muresan for the tallest, both at 7′ 7″). Smits was part of the golden age of the Pacers during the mid 90’s; he played alongside Reggie Miller on a Pacers team that consistently made the playoffs. But Rik Smits hasn’t always been a shining star on the court. “The Dunking Dutchman” struggled during his college years, failing to gain any attention as a prospect until his senior year. Smits’ tenacity, perseverance, and dominating offensive style should act as a playbook for anyone trying to make it in professional sports without the benefit of national media hype.

Video highlights reviewing the career of former Zionsville, Indiana resident Rik Smits, a center for the Indiana Pacers

 

Rik Smits was born in 1966 in the Netherlands, where much of his family still lives. In 1984, Smits immigrated to the United States to enroll in Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He had a basketball scholarship he had earned on the strength of his 7’4″ height, but he was an undeveloped player with little to no training. The coaches at Marist would change all that; by the time he graduated in 1988, Smits had perfected his jump shot. His 61% free throw accuracy combined with his immense size made Smits a natural terror on the court, earning him two consecutive East Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year awards. As a senior at Marist, Smits racked up 24.7 points a game and 8.7 rebounds, evidence of his transformation into a top flight NBA prospect.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway video in which former Zionsville, Indiana resident and Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits plays basketball with the Repsol Honda Team and Ben Spies

 

The Indiana Pacers drafted Rik Smits in the first round of the 1988 NBA Draft; he was the second overall pick. He moved to the nearby Indianapolis suburb of Zionsville, Indiana for his tenure with the Pacers. Smits originally had a spot on the roster as a backup to Steve Stipanovich, but when Stipanovich suffered a career ending injury Smits was asked to step up. Step up he did: in his rookie season, Smits played in 71 games and scored 11.7 points per game and 6.1 rebounds per game on his way to a selection for the All Rookie First Team. In the 1989 – 1990 season Smits became a full time starter and led the Pacers in field goal percentage. After a couple of slow seasons in 1990 and 1991, the 1992 – 1993 season saw Smits becoming a true leader on the Indianapolis sports team’s roster, outplaying Patrick Ewing one on one during the NBA playoffs that year. Though Ewing and the Knicks would eventually defeat the Pacers to win the series, Rik Smits showed he had what it took to be a contender in the NBA.

Former Zionsville, Indiana resident and Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits takes on the job of a masseur in this ThirdThursdays video

 

By the 1993 – 1994 season, the Pacers were beginning to hit their stride, and Rik Smits was striding along with the best of them. The second best player on the team next to Reggie Miller, Smits earned a then career high 15.7 points per game and led the team in field goal percentage. Again the Pacers made the playoffs, this time advancing past the first two rounds, where they again squared off against the New York Knicks. The 1994 – 1995 season was by far Smits’ finest; he upped his per game score record to 17.9 points,  and he finished second on the Pacers for field goal percentage and rebounds. The Pacers took home the Central Division title that year but lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, this time to the Orlando Magic.

Video of the game winning shot by former Zionsville, Indiana resident and Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits in Game 4 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals

 

Rik Smits would have several more stellar playoff performances in addition to plenty of top scoring regular season games. He earned his finest points per game average in the 1995 – 1996 season, and in 1998 he was named to the Eastern Conference All Star Team. However, Smits missed the first thirty games of the 1996 – 1997 season due to his recovery from foot surgery. Despite playing 73 games in the 1997 – 1998 season and again bringing the Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals, Smits’ foot problems would continue to hamper his performance. After the Pacers lost to the Lost Angeles Lakers in the 2000 NBA Finals, Rik Smits retired from professional basketball.

Video of former Zionsville, Indiana resident and Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits’ final professional basketball game, Game 6 of the 2000 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers

 

One of the most effective centers in basketball at the time, Rik Smits helped elevate the Pacers to one of the best teams in the NBA during the mid to late 90’s. Even after his retirement in 2000, the “Dunking Dutchman” is still one of the more popular Indianapolis sports players; he was voted to the Pacers 40th Anniversary Team along with Mel Daniels, Jermaine O’Neal, and Reggie Miller. Though Rik Smits currently lives in Naples, Florida, where he races motocross as a hobby, he’ll always be a famous Zionsville person because of his impact on Indiana sports. Rik Smits will always be an honorary Hoosier, as he was a fixture at Conseco Fieldhouse for the glory days of the Indiana Pacers.


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