Whenever something happens in the world of sports—whether it’s a Game 7, a blockbuster trade, or an incendiary tweet—Stephen A. Smith is there to offer his expert opinion. A brash, provocative pundit with the volume turned up to 11, Smith never minces words when it comes to sports, a stance that has earned him a Saturday Night Live parody. But this former newspaper reporter is having the last laugh. As the co-host of ESPN’s First Take, the host of the Stephen A. Smith Show on ESPN Radio, and an NBA analyst across ESPN programming, Smith has a foothold in both television and radio. Here, he reveals how he came to thrive in sports media.
You were one of the first newspaper journalists to jump to TV. Did you see media moving in that direction?
When you see leagues signing contracts for billions of dollars with networks, you know that TV is where it’s at. The defining moment for me was in 2001, when the Philadelphia 76ers made the NBA Finals. I was breaking stories left and right as a beat writer, covering the team every day for The Philadelphia Inquirer. But once the playoffs arrived, the newspaper relegated me to just writing game stories and off-day stories. I realized how insignificant the beat writer was in the grand scheme of things and found that entirely unacceptable as it pertained to my career aspirations. I knew I wanted to matter more. The way to ensure that was to elevate myself in a different forum, which is where radio and TV came into play.
How did you develop your voice for TV?
I had no television training whatsoever. I basically was myself, and people saw me on TV and loved it. My career has soared because of it.
What goes through your mind when watching a game, knowing that you’ll have to comment on it almost immediately?
I try to anticipate what questions folks are going to ask about the game or what kind of reaction they are going to have to it.
What makes First Take stand out from similar shows?
There are a lot of debate shows. There’s only one Stephen A.
Originally published in the summer 2018 issue of Hue.