The NBA is the sport that made Stephen A. Smith famous. It’s the sport that he never gets tired of talking about. It’s the sport that has made him a respected and high-profile sports journalist for more than a decade.
But during the NBA postseason this year, Smith was nowhere to be seen or heard. Instead of offering opinions on such topics as whether Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James on the multiple ESPN platforms, Smith was relegated to the role of a spokesperson for the fairly new VitaminWater campaign of “The Great Debate.”
Like many journalists these days, he is looking for a job.
In May, Smith left ESPN after more than five years. The network and Smith could not reach a deal on a new contract after a month of trying.
“I wanted to be in a position where I didn’t have to depend on one entity to market me and to control my brand,” Smith said of his situation. “I wanted to be in a position where I could control that myself.”
At the moment, Smith does not know where his career is headed.
While he doesn’t want to leave sports, he said sports may not be his next gig. Smith said he still wants to work in television or radio, but, more than anything else, he wants to get back to work as soon as he can.
“I don’t just want to be an NBA20guy,” Smith, 41, said. “I don’t want my career to be dependant upon two television networks that have the NBA contracts.”
With ESPN, Smith, whose outspoken opinions earned him the nickname “Screamin’ A,” was a media personality who influenced columnist and colleague Jemele Hill.
“His style was so unique that you never forgot it,” Hill said. “During the time he did sports, I think he developed a brand and a signature that really no one else has. He is not afraid to call people out and make his opinions heard.”
With ESPN, Smith appeared on the morning show “First Take” on ESPN2, did a regular radio show, wrote for ESPN The Magazine and was part of news shows across the network, primarily to discuss the NBA.
Smith, a former Philadelphia Inquirer sports columnist, also hosted the short-lived late-night television show called “Quite Frankly.”
It was that show where Smith picked up his passion for television. It was also that experience that showed Smith he could do something other than sports.
Smith said he felt bad that he was limited to just talking sports on the show when so many other topics interested him. “That was something that was extremely difficult for me to stomach,” he said.
Even though Smith said that sports alone isn’t fulfilling, he said he will always be willing to talk sports. Then again, he knows he could talk sports on the radio and television bett er than any other subject.
“I still love sports,” Smith said. “I’m not going to limit myself to just this one thing for the rest of my life. I can’t do it.”