Stephen A. Smith Told JJ Redick Why He Wants People Who Disagree With Him On ‘First Take’

One of the best things ESPN has done in recent years is the restructuring of First Take that saw Max Kellerman exit as Stephen A. Smith’s permanent sparring partner and replaced him with a rotating cast of characters that step into the proverbial ring with Smith on the network’s top morning program.

It has freshened up the show tremendously, but most importantly it has kept Smith on his toes, at times putting him up against people who press him on his takes and make him uncomfortable. Arguably the best of those guests at getting under Smith’s skin and calling him out for bad takes is JJ Redick, who has become a staple of the show and regularly airs Smith out for what he thinks are bad takes, whether that’s criticizing today’s players for being soft or bizarrely arguing that Russell Westbrook shouldn’t go to Darvin Ham’s intro presser.

That makes for tremendous television, but given Smith’s role as the unquestioned star, it leads to many wondering if he’ll welcome those guests back. On Thursday, Redick teased Smith’s appearance on Friday’s episode of “Old Man and the Three,” in which he asked Smith about that, and Smith gave a lengthy answer about why he likes having people on First Take who disagree with him.

That desire for more disagreement on set is part of why Smith wanted to freshen things up after so many years debating Kellerman, who he liked but felt at times they weren’t creating the best content. With Redick, Mad Dog, CJ McCollum, Marcus Spears, and plenty of others, Smith doesn’t have to worry about that anymore, and the show has benefitted from his relatively thick skin to understand that him getting aired out by guests is sometimes the best thing for ratings — which is what he’s all about.