In 2002, the Buffalo Bandits drafted my cousin, Billy Dee Smith, with the No. 3 overall pick. I was a 9-year-old boy in Kitchener, Ontario, who immediately became the biggest Buffalo fan there was.
I grew up watching Billy Dee suit up for Buffalo. I always wanted to be a professional box lacrosse player like him. I remember how it felt cheering for him and the Bandits as a kid – the emotion, the intensity, the magic. Every winter, I couldn’t wait to get my Billy Dee and Buffalo fix.
It was tough growing up as one of the few Black lacrosse players in Kitchener. Not many other lacrosse players looked like me, and I wasn’t allowed to forget it. But my cousin did, and he did it at the highest level, even winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. I knew he belonged, and I knew I could get there, too. I worked to prove I was worthy of the same platform as him.
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I spent so many years loving the Bandits, but I didn’t get to see my first game live until I was 16. Billy Dee got me the ticket, and I made the trip across the border to Buffalo.
The crowd, the game, the atmosphere, it was all so much. I was overwhelmed with inspiration. This was where I wanted to be. I knew it.
After the game, Billy Dee took me to the locker room. I met some of the greats, like John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis. The Bandits were a veteran-laden team, and there were more years of experience in that room than I had by many times over. That night is one I will never forget. It cemented in me that what I had already focused years of work and effort into was right.
Only a few years later, I was in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft. Buffalo had the No. 5 overall pick, its first first-round pick in two years, and was one of the teams that had shown an interest in me. There were others that had made their intrigue known, so where I’d land was a mystery heading into the night. I would have been thrilled for any team to pick me – playing in the NLL alone is an incredible accomplishment and something I dreamed of for years – but the possibility of heading to Buffalo to play with my cousin couldn’t help but excite me.
The first four picks came and went. I remained on the board. It was Buffalo’s turn. It was possible.
Then it happened. My name was called. I was in shock. That shock shifted to joy.
I had the opportunity to play for the team I’ve loved my whole life.
The Bandits were important in nurturing my love for lacrosse. They were my role models competing at the upper echelon of the game, showing me that the impossible was possible and that I could one day reach those same heights. I never thought it would be in the orange and black. But here I am.
It’s been eight years since the Bandits drafted me. I’ve been on every team since 2013 and spent five years with my cousin as my teammate. I’ve gone from a 20-year-old kid trying to make it work as a transition to a 28-year-old man with an NLL MVP and records to my name. And I did it all in Buffalo.
From my teammates to the coaches to the front office to the fans and everyone in between, Buffalo has been everything I hoped and dreamed of when I was a little kid in awe of Billy Dee and the Bandits. This team has given me so much, and I am forever grateful for the opportunities and belief the Bandits have bestowed upon me and my family. I try to repay it by giving everything when I’m fortunate enough to wear the sweater.
Since becoming a Bandit, I have moved to Buffalo and embraced the city that I represent on the floor every night I suit up. I know this is the place for me.
Through ups and downs, good times and bad, from the bottom of my heart –
Thank you, Buffalo.
– Dhane Smith #92