Friday, May 01, 2009

An ode to Stephen A. Smith

Today is Stephen A. Smith's last day at ESPN. According to USA Today, Smith says it made him offers in recent months "for an additional year or two" which he says he turned down before ESPN said simply that it was not renewing his contract. He says he won't look for new work until his contract ends, when he hopes he'll face "a plethora of opportunities."

I recall fondly when my eardrums were first startled by Stephen A. It was on the insufferable NBA Tonight or whatever it was called back in the day featuring the already checked out Kevin Frazier and some other guys I can't remember. But that was the thing. Stephen stood out. He had shine from the jump. Not just because he was louder than Billy Mays promoting Orange-Glo, but because he knew his basketball (and sports in general, to be clear). And he was passionate. I could never hate on somebody who was just genuinely enthused to give his fellow sports fans informed analysis. Sure, my eardrums wanted him to shut the fuck up, but I never stopped listening. He always had something to say that was worth listening to. That's why I wanted him to stop yelling. It just wasn't necessary. His knowledge reverberated without the volume. But during the golden age of ESPN, you had to be loud to be heard over the likes of Sean Salisbury and Michael Irvin. Closed mouths don't get fed and it was survival of the loudest at ESPN.

Stephen always had his critics. NY Post columnist Phil Mushnick recently called "a self-promoting, race-based gasbag". In tribute, I presume. Mushnick claims Smith "was just dumped for being a self-promoting, self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory, race-hustling, blowhard and sports know-nothing." Ironically, only a know-nothing would call Stephen A. a know-nothing. And Stephen A. has never been a race baiter. Instead he is open and proud about being a representative of a particular demographic. Smith's agenda was never a secret. I always found that honesty refreshing, you know, because I'm always willing to listen to different perspectives. And I definitely preferred Stephen A.'s alleged propaganda in contrast to the cornucopia of closeted racists that litter the ESPN stage and the at-large mainstream sports media.

It's too bad that ESPN is getting rid of all its edgier personalities. The channel is so bland now, I even miss Sean Salisbury. ESPN enraged and annoyed me oftentimes, but it at least it entertained me. Now there's very little must see programming on the channel and is barely informative beyond news I could get from the Associated Press. Smith was one of ESPN's last remaining true "personalities" and Smith's departure from the channel is an event worth marking. Stephen A. certainly left an impression. Not many job changes are evidenced by a column in USA Today, a jealous rant in the NY Post and numerous mentions around the blogosphere.

As Stephen A. moves on from ESPN, he reflects that "'finally people notice I don't scream nearly as much as I used to.' (That resulted from his mother Janet forcefully asking him to 'explain why you have to be so loud.')" Stop lying, bruh. You are still loud as hell. I have been startled many a morning since he started screaming at Skip Bayless on First Take. Nevertheless, Stephen A. has undoubtedly inspired rage, respect and comedy gold amongst his audience, often all at the same times. He's a bit triangle-headed and more than a bit loud, but I always respected and enjoyed Stephen A. Smith, even when it was too early in the morning for him to be yelling like that. I don't mean to eulogize like the brother is dead. He will be resurrected in a new and hopefully better venue. And I look forward to his next venture (fingers crossed for the TNT Inside the NBA desk). I'm sure he'll holla at us when he's ready for us to listen up again.