Shaquille O’Neal and Toni Kroos acknowledge Michael Smith’s triumph

CHAMPION Michael Smith admits he’s still riding the crest of a wave after his triumph at Alexandra Palace last week – a success that has resonated across the sporting world.

The St Helens darter fulfilled his destiny with a famous 7-4 win over Michael van Gerwen on January 3 to become world champion and world number one for the first time in his career.

Smith also produced an amazing nine-darter finish in the second set – in what is being described as his all-time best leg – after Van Gerwen missed double 12 for a nine-darter in the same leg.

His success made headlines around the world, including NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, who took inspiration from the world champion by showcasing his darts skills on prime-time US sports show Inside The NBA.

Smith also appeared as a guest on TV talk show The MMA Hour, hosted by acclaimed MMA journalist Ariel Helwani, to discuss his historic exploits.

“It’s a dream come true, that’s what we all strive for,” Smith admitted on Monday’s episode of MMA Hour.

“I’ve always wanted to be world champion and I’ve always wanted to be world number one and what better way to do that than on the same night.

“Yesterday morning I (Real Madrid footballer) Toni Kroos had a message saying, ‘Well done, can you answer a few questions for my podcast?’

“Toni Kroos is probably one of the best midfielders in football history. He won the World Cup and I don’t know how many Champions League titles. I was just starry.

“People I’ve looked up to and followed on social media are now following me back and sending me congratulations.

“I’m still not entirely clear on what I’ve done, but it’s starting to sink in now.”

Smith put on a spectacular performance to beat a seemingly irrepressible Van Gerwen at Alexandra Palace, averaging 100.87, landing 22 maximums and converting 47% of his double attempts to prevail.

However, his nine-dart exploits will go down in sports history as Wayne Mardle lost his voice on the Sky Sports comment box in iconic scenes that went viral on social media.

Mardle called the nine-darter alongside Stuart Pyke – and their excitement was matched by a trio of Italian commentators on DAZN, who erupted when Smith achieved perfection.

Smith admits he hasn’t stopped keeping tabs on his nine-darter since winning the coveted Sid Waddell Trophy, and he hopes his win will set the trigger for darts to explode around the world.

“Wayne’s comment made this moment even more special. That leg will never be hit,” admitted Smith, who won the US Darts Masters title at Madison Square Garden last June.

“I looked at the Italian commentary, the Hungarian commentary. There’s plenty and I’ve watched them all.

“It just makes it special to see people’s emotions. I know it’s my job, but putting a smile on people’s faces is even better.

“I think this is the most crowded final we’ve ever had and that can only make the game better.

“You can see how big it is in Europe and hopefully now we can do it massively in the US.”

It has been a tumultuous week for Smith, who has seen unprecedented demand for interviews and media appearances since winning the £500,000 top prize in the capital.

When he returned to his hometown of St Helens last week, he was given a hero’s welcome and the town’s street signs were changed to a message welcoming Smith home.

The 32-year-old also visited his beloved Saints last Thursday, where he paraded the Sid Waddell Trophy on the pitch alongside the club’s Betfred Super League, League Leaders’ Shield and Women’s Super League trophies.

“I used to go there as a kid to watch my heroes play,” admitted Smith, who also saw his cousin Paige Travis represent St Helens and England Women this year.

“Finally getting there as a world champion and standing with some of the greats that I’ve seen – it was incredible.

“I still take my kids there now when I have time off, so to be on the pitch with my trophy and St Helens trophies was another dream come true.” Shaquille O’Neal and Toni Kroos acknowledge Michael Smith’s triumph

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