LOS ANGELES — “Oh. My. Lord. … Watching Duke?! I’m sensing UNLV back in the day.”
It’s 4:30 a.m. and Stephen A. Smith is fired up in his downtown hotel room. Scott Van Pelt opens every episode of his midnight edition of SportsCenter by saying, “I’m not tired yet.” The same can be said about Stephen A. at just about any hour of the day.
Smith is on a conference call with First Take producers, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim Rose to figure out the rundown for that morning’s show. While Stephen A. knows “you can’t go wrong with the NFL” in the A-block, he’s most passionate about Zion Williamson and the Duke Blue Devils destroying Kentucky in their season opener the night before. Smith will talk about Duke on three different shows before lunch, never once getting bored by his full day that often involves repeating his opinions on multiple occasions.
A day in Smith’s life is never dull and always a bit hectic. After doing the production meeting from his hotel room — which only happens when they’re on the west coast — he arrives at ESPN’s L.A. studio a little before 6:00 a.m. PT to get makeup done, at which point he strolls over to the First Take studio to cut a promo for that day’s show. Shortly after that, he does a Get Up hit with Jalen Rose, appalled at Rose’s proclamation that Zion Williamson wouldn’t have cracked the starting lineup on the Fab Five at Michigan.
That performance sets the tone for the rest of Smith’s day, beginning with two hours of First Take. Smith and Kellerman open the show with Duke talk, then debate Dez Bryant potentially signing with the Saints. The show truly takes off, however, once Smith gets on the subject of the miserable play of the Washington Wizards.
The volume of his voice raises from “near yell” to “actual yell” (there’s always another level for Stephen A., even when you are sure he’s at full throat). He calls for them to blow it up, suggesting a possible trade sending Bradley Beal to Los Angeles for Brandon Ingram, but the main target of his outrage is John Wall. Smith calls out Wall’s effort and play, being sure not to question his ability, and mentions his soon to kick in supermax extension, rattling off the year-by-year salary he’ll receive with increasing appall. Stephen A. — who is not a Wizards fan and has no ties to Washington D.C. beyond loving the city and wanting more reasons to go there for work — seems personally offended by the Wizards.
There are probably Wizards fans who aren’t as bothered by the team’s start as Smith, which is one of his greatest gifts.
Smith can take a topic to which he doesn’t have a personal connection and make it seem like the biggest deal in the world. Two days before his Wall rant, Smith pushed Michael Irvin into an unhinged tirade defending the Cowboys during a live show in Dallas. That segment immediately went viral, with Irvin breaking into an intense sweat, standing and shouting at the cameras, at Smith, at Kellerman, at the crowd, and anyone who would listen.