You must know that the following conversation took place in 2004, years before ESPN's First Take and the spike of his popularity and income. He and I spoke for the first time when Smith was 36 years old and still working for the Philadelphia Inquirer. My man was starting to get a lot of guest spots on ESPN that year, which is why I thought it would be cool to speak with him.
I felt something more coming along for Smith. Besides, I had already been a fan of his since I was in college. Also, weeks before this interview took place I had spoken to his former college basketball coach, Bighouse Gaines. Coach Gaines couldn't stop talking about his former player, in a humorous way. So I instantly began working on getting some time with Smith.
I will admit that he got a little upset with me about publishing some of his comments. He assumed they were off the record. I didn't feel that Stephen said anything that bad. Actually, I found it all to be engaging and funny.
Take a look at SOME of the things he and I discussed on July 20, 2004.
Anthony: What's going on, Stephen?
Stephen: I'm exhausted. But other than that -- I'm cool.
Anthony: You should be. (Smiles.) Man, I see you on television 24/7.
Stephen: Man, you have no idea. People don't realize that I don't ask for this. They (ESPN) literally call and ask me to come in. My contract calls me to do NBA Shootaround and NBA Fastbreak. I usually do NBA Shootaround every Friday, for the most part. And, I do NBA Fastbreak once or twice a week on the weekends, during the NBA season. You understand.
Anthony: Have you basically taken David Aldridge' spot on ESPN?
Stephen: No. A lot of people are under that impression. That's actually not the truth. What a lot of people don't realize, Anthony, is that David Aldridge and I don't do the same thing.
Stephen: We're both insiders, but only because that's what I do. I dig for information. But my job at ESPN is an analyst, you know what I'm saying. I'm on the shows. All David Aldridge does is strictly reporting. I'm also responsible for bringing ESPN the ratings too. (Both laugh.) It's a different role for me. Do you want to know who's very similar to David Aldridge?
Anthony: Who's that?
Stephen: Jim Gray, because that's what he does. He does the sideline reporting from games. I don't do that. I'm similar to do David because I have sources around the league and I'll break some stories. But, for the most part my role is to be on those shows.
Anthony: Got ya. Now that the Kobe and Shaq situation is over and done with -- at least for now, what are you going to be talking about?
Stephen: Well, it's a combination of things. I also do Ol Skool, Nu Skool on SportsCenter every Sunday morning. That's me debating against Skip Bayless on a variety of issues -- not just NBA issues. Other than that, you have to remember that it's free agency time around the league. So teams are going to make moves. Decisions are going down.
Anthony: True. Why do you always seem to be going at Kobe. Don't you blame Shaq for at least some of what's going on in L.A.?
Stephen: First of all, it is Shaq's fault. I'm not gonna lie to you. I don't think I'm hard on Kobe. A lot of people feel that way. That's not what I think. I'll give you an example. John Thompson once said something to me that I think was the absolute truth. Coach Gaines said it about me too. If you want to know how I feel just ask me. I don't have anything against Kobe. But if I watch him in a press conference and I think he's lying don't ask me if I think he's lying. And, I won't tell you. But if you ask me then I'm going to tell you.
Stephen: When I think about Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O,Neal, and think about the relationship they had, and then see Kobe on national TV -- in front of everybody, saying he had nothing to do with this. (Both laugh.) Now you have gone too far. I never said who was right or wrong in terms of Kobe's relationship with Shaq. What I said was, "Who gives a damn?" He's (Shaq) 7-1, 360 pounds. He's the most dominant force in the game. Find a way. Kobe wanted Shaq gone. Everybody knew that. Then, Kobe gets in front of a camera and says how much this angers and hurts him. He talked about how he loves Shaq, and how upset he is that his partner in crime is gone. Now that's insulting our intelligence. That pisses me off. People aren't stupid. There would've been nothing wrong with him saying, "Ya'll don't play with him everyday. Ya'll ain't here from training camp where we bust our butts during the off season, and he (Shaq) ain't in shape." That's all the man had to say, Anthony.
Anthony: You're right.
Stephen: I am who I am. If you don't like it, it's just too damn bad.
Stephen: He's got a nice game. I haven't seen him play much. He's got a lot of heart. He ain't scared of anybody. He's a streaky shooter, if I remember correctly. They say that he has tremendous upside. I've got to see more of him next year.
Anthony: I mentioned this earlier, but you're kind of big in the world of sports right now. Did you see this kind of success coming?
Stephen: Not at all. I've been blessed. My mission was to be a general sports columnist. There's over 4,000 general sports columnist in America. Only 21 of them are black, and I'm one of them.
Anthony: How was your game back when you played at Winston-Salem State University?
Stephen: I was good. Coach Gaines signed me to a scholarship on the spot. The problem was that I developed tendinitis in my knee by the time I reported to the team. Coach Gaines used to always ask me if I knew what they did to broken horses in Kentucky. They shoot them. That was his favorite thing to say to me. "Boy you came here limping."It was true. I was never healthy. I could shoot, but I couldn't run with anybody. That always depressed me because I worked so hard, but couldn't stop limping.
|Legendary basketball coach Clarence "Bighouse" Gaines.|
Anthony: Allen Iverson
Stephen: Super star. No, no. Misunderstood.
Anthony: Larry Brown.
Anthony: Winston-Salem, NC.
Anthony: Favorite TV show.
Stephen: Law & Order.
Anthony: What's next for you?
Stephen: I'll be doing this for at least 20 more year. But my dream is to do something like 60 Minutes.
Anthony: Cool. Steve, I appreciate you taking the time to let me drill you.
Stephen: No problem, man. Take care of yourself.