“I’m gonna say what I feel, I’m gonna say why, and although I’m gonna be responsible, I’m not gonna have a problem being in your face, and if it offends you? So be it.”
Tuesday (today!), the Stephen A. Smith Show, hosted by Stephen A. Smith and produced by ESPN Radio, comes to Mad Dog Sports Radio.
Smith, a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take and contributor to SportsCenter, spoke with SiriusXM about his style as a sports commentator, a few of his early experience in the business and much more ahead of his Mad Dog Sports Radio debut.*
How do you envision taking advantage of SiriusXM’s uncensored platform?
The thing about it is that I’m going to speak my mind. I’m going to be somebody who’s direct, and in your face, like I always have been, When you talk about Sirius satellite as opposed to terrestrial radio, there’s a freedom that you have that comes along with it, that some would argue doesn’t otherwise exist in other platforms outside of SiriusXM. So, the mantra and the tenor and the reputation that you guys have of being no-holds-barred fits right in line with how I like to be.
What type of sports talk caller is your favorite?
I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, as long as you make sense. I like to be challenged; it does not bother me one bit. And I like people who try to come at me based on what I said. Whether they agree or disagree with me, it doesn’t matter. I like people calling me who are just as opinionated as I am. And it doesn’t bother me at all if they challenge me. If you’re disrespectful, you’re gonna hear a dial tone; that’s my M.O. I’m not gonna hang up on people for fun and games, but I will not tolerate being disrespected; it is my show. And even though the callers are welcomed to participate in my show, there’s one name in it, and that name is going to be mine, and I’m going to run the show the way that I see fit. And that’s the way it’s gonna be. I’m gonna say what I feel, I’m gonna say why, and although I’m gonna be responsible, I’m not gonna have a problem being in your face, and if it offends you? So be it. As along as it’s the truth and it’s responsible dialogue, then I don’t care.
Do you have a favorite person with whom you like to debate?
I have no favorite person. I don’t give a damn who it is. Let’s go.
Which sports show hosts did you listen to growing up, and earlier in your career?
I listened to sports talk radio from the time I was in college. Obviously, I went to college at North Carolina, but when I was in New York I listened to Mike and the Mad Dog. They were the preeminent sports show in sports talk radio, so you couldn’t help but listen to them. But I didn’t listen to much sports talk radio outside of them until I got into the business. And obviously, being in Philadelphia listening to Angelo Cataldi, listening to Mike Missanelli, both of them based out of Philly. Of course, listening to Mike and the Mad Dog in New York. Listened to a little bit of Jim Rome because he had a nationally syndicated sports talk show. And I always was one of those guys that just prided myself on trying to be as knowledgeable as I could, being as diverse as I could. I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I listen to the Black Eagle, Joe Madison. I listen to all of those guys; whatever it took to educate myself, to enlighten myself, is something I opened myself up to. I didn’t resist anything, but from a sports talk stand point, it was primarily the folks in Philadelphia, Mike and the Mad Dog, and Jim Rome. And I always envisioned myself being in the very position that I’m in now.
When you broke into the industry, was there ever a moment when you found yourself star struck?
Never. I was never star struck. Because the only athlete I ever idolized to that level was Muhammad Ali. Everyone else, I just envisioned as a great athlete. I never found myself star struck or in awe. Never found myself intimidated. My mentality is that in my own way, somewhere, some day, I would be where they are. And that’s the mentality, that’s that approach that I had. It wasn’t about having to deal with people, it was about people making sure they had to recognize they were going to have to deal with me.
What are some of your earlier sports memories?
I’ve always been a big-time sports fan because my father is from the West Indies, and he was a baseball and a basketball star, so I grew up with baseball and basketball in my blood. Football came on later. I’m a diehard Yankees fan. My father never allowed any one of us – I’m the youngest of six kids – to even watch the Mets in our household until we were 18 years old. He’s a diehard Yankees fan, and we grew up in Queens, 15 minutes from Shea Stadium, in Hollis. And I never saw the Mets until the year they won the World Series in 1986. I couldn’t tell you a thing about them from personal experience. Until I turned 18, we were not allowed.
But I watched Reggie Jackson smack three home runs. I watched Chris Chambliss and Graig Nettles and Mickey Rivers and Willie Randolph and all of those boys. I watched Thurman Munson before he passed away in a plane crash. I watch Lou Piniella crying over him after he had passed away. I remember how palpable and poignant that sad, tragic moment was, when it was learned that he had passed away in the plane crash. My favorite owner of all-time is George Steinbrenner. I’m a diehard Yankees fan. That’s what we knew, and that’s what I was allowed to watch.
And so I grew up with baseball, and then of course basketball, me knowing basketball the way I did, playing for the legendary Clarence “Big House” Gaines. My first year in the business, covering John Chaney at Temple University. Ultimately covering Larry Brown. Being raised in the sport of basketball by Clarence “Big House” Gaines, and the late, great, John McLendon, who both helped integrate college basketball. That’s my basketball background, so that’s where it came from.
In terms of sporting events, you know, I never really was lucky enough to go to one until I had graduated college. While I was in college, went to the college games, like Duke-North Carolina, and then when I got into the business, other than covering high school sports, I went to a couple of Knicks games when Pat Riley was the coach. But the first big event that I covered was really Temple playing against UMass, which was ranked No. 5 in the nation. That was when I was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, so that was really the first sporting event that stood out for me, because the hair was standing up on my skin, and I saw how exciting it was to experience something like that, and I’ve really been addicted ever since to the industry.
Are there any games that top that experience at Temple?
I remember when Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers went to the Finals in 2001. It wasn’t a particular game, it was that series against Toronto in the Eastern Conference semifinals, when Allen Iverson and Vince Carter were going back-and-forth dropping 50 on each other. It was unreal. That still, to this day, one of the greatest experiences. It wasn’t just one game, it was the entire series. It was unreal. It was an unreal experience to witness.
Which NBA player, who hasn’t yet won a championship, do you want to see get a ring before they retire?
Well, I’d love to see Carmelo Anthony get a ring, there’s no doubt about that. I think Kevin Durant getting a ring is inevitable because I think he’s just too surreal to not get a ring. But I would love to see Carmelo Anthony get a ring because I know what level of effort he puts into his performance, and I think he’s underestimated. But I’m also a Derrick Rose fan. I think he’s sensational. There’s a lot of guys that I root for, and there’s a lot of guys that I admire and respect in terms of their skill set. But those two, in terms of what they bring to the table, I just think that they’re spectacular, and it would be nice to see them capture a championship.
You’re always buttoned up when we see you on TV; are there any quirky sports jerseys hanging in your closet?
I have a little pet peeve about me when it comes to stuff like that. To me, when you do stuff like that, collect souvenirs, it just comes across as if you’ve arrived. And part of the secret to my success if that I never feel like I’ve arrived. I’m always striving for something greater. I’m always striving for a greater experience, a greater level of success; my appetite is never completely whetted. It may be whetted momentarily, but at the end of the day, for me, it’s all about continuing to strive.
The only memento that I have is a gift somebody got for me, where they got gloves autographed by Muhammad Ali. Because he is the only guy that I’ve idolized. He is the only athlete who’s autograph I would ever ask for. I have never asked a sports figure for their autograph in my life, and that includes Michael Jordan, who I believe to be the greatest player I’ve ever seen. But the only athlete whose autograph I would ever ask for is Muhammad Ali. And that’s because of what he was as a man, and what he had to endure and overcome. Not just his sports greatness. Somebody’s greatness as an athlete is not enough for me. It’s the combination of the greatness, and their ability and willingness to withstand and overcome adversity. That’s what really resonates with me, and that’s why Ali is that guy.
*Smith has called into several Mad Dog Sports Radio programs already. Listen back to two of those calls here.