At 51, Kenny "The Jet" Smith's still got game.
The former Houston Rockets star, who's now a television sports analyst, reality TV participant and lifestyle blogger, took time out from his busy schedule at the Final Four to engage in a 3-point shooting contest at the Houstonian Club as part of an Uber promotion.
For a couple of hours on Friday night, about 20 Uber users who clicked onto a special Kenny Smith icon on the site and got through were whisked to a basketball court at the posh Post Oak-area hotel and health club where they got the opportunity to challenge Smith to see how many hoops they could each make from 3-point distance at the top of the key and on either side of the basket in 90 seconds.
In the first round, Smith nipped contestant Nick Balser by one point when he hit his last five jump shots in a row from the far right side of the basket."It's only about 50 people in here. Usually it's 20,000, so you don't feel the nerves at all," Smith explained. "It's a lot fun. Final Four weekend is all about fun, laughter, and I'm hoping that somebody beats me, but I'm not going to let 'em."
In the second round, Smith was on the losing side as former Purdue University basketball player D.J. Byrd let loose with a string of long shots that left nothing but net. "I'm trying to redeem Purdue this year since we had an early exit (from the NCAA tournament)," said Byrd, who is attending the Houston Final Four with former Purdue player Ryne Smith.
"I love coming to the Final Four with all the players, coaches that you meet and the networking you get to do, players I've played against in the past. It's just a great weekend and this tops it all off," said Byrd, who is a high school basketball coach in Indiana. "It's an awesome story and I can't wait to tell my family back home."
In another round, Casey Gonzales trumped Smith on the court and asked the former NBA star to affirm it on a video. Smith remarked on camera that Gonzales beat him — in ping pong. (You can see the video here.)
Smith gave Houston high marks in its Final Four set-up. "It's great because everything is in close proximity," he said. "You can do it downtown because you've got two arenas, you've got NRG Stadium, which is not far away in the Astrodome area. Houston is a sports town so it's a great opportunity to have these people here and have a great time doing it."
And he has no doubt who will win it all this year — his alma mater the University of North Carolina. "We're going to do it. We're ready primed, we have great coaching, great players and great fans. So we're going to go all the way," he said.