If you’re a sports fan, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’re familiar with Stephen A. Smith. Whether you love his debates with Max Kellerman or think he’s more of a meme than anything else, the New York City native has become a major player on the sports media scene. It turns out that we can (partially) thank the late, great Kobe Bryant for that reality.
In 2006, Stephen A. Smith and Kobe Bryant were talking in the green room when the NBA star shared a major piece of career advice. Since then, Stephen A. has kept that message in mind.
Stephen A. Smith’s rise to national fame
When you think of professional sports, it’s usually the athletes who get top billing. Some members of the media, however, can become legitimate celebrities in their own right. Just look at Stephen A. Smith.
Smith grew up in New York City but headed south to North Carolina to attend Winston-Salem University on a basketball scholarship. While an injury limited his time on the court, Stephen A. started writing; that, not playing, would be his ticket to stardom.
After graduation, Smith scored a series of newspaper jobs and eventually joined the Philadelphia Inquirer. The columnist also started branching out into other forms of media; he scored his own radio show and TV show, both on ESPN.
While there have been some bumps in the road—Smith was demoted at the Inquirer, briefly left ESPN, and made some controversial comments along the way—things have worked out pretty well for Stephen A. These days, he’s back with the Worldwide Leader, makes plenty of money, and is one of the most recognizable personalities in sports media.
Kobe Bryant offered some career-changing advice
Based on his on-air persona, it’s easy to imagine Stephen A. Smith being supremely confident in his own abilities and never needing guidance from anyone. In 2006, however, Kobe Bryant offered him some career-changing advice.
According to USA Today’s Chris Bumbaca, the two men were chatting in the green room when Smith jokingly said, “Man, they’re telling me I can be the next Oprah.” Joke or not, Bryant realized there was potential for something more.
“And he said to me, ‘Bump Oprah. Think HARPO,” Smith explained. “Don’t insult her or yourself by viewing yourself as just a television personality or viewing her as just that. She’s so much more. She’s an influencer, a difference-maker, because she owns her own stuff. That’s what you should be aspiring to do.”
At the time, Smith was still successful, but he was yet to reach critical mass; his ESPN Radio show wasn’t nationally broadcast yet, and his TV show, Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, would be canceled in 2007. When Kobe Bryant tells you something, though, you listen.
“And I’ve held onto that all of these years in everything that I’ve done with that mission in mind, until right now,” Smith said.
Stephen A. Smith is following Kobe Bryant’s advice perfectly
Stephen A. Smith and sports debate shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Even if you don’t care for First Take, though, the host has become a smashing success.
As mentioned above, Smith has become a fixture in the sports media space; at this point, he’s become the basis of memes, has built up his own repertoire of bits and internal reference, and is simply too big to ignore. If you watch sports, you simply know Stephen A. Smith. He isn’t stopping there, though.
Smith has appeared on General Hospital and starred in beef jerky commercials. He now has his own show, Stephen A’s World, on ESPN+. The host also “began his own production company, MrSAS Productions – with an eye on getting into the movie industry soon,” according to Bumbaca and even admitted that his “aspiration is to ultimately do late-night one day.”
Whether Stephen A. Smith can ever become an Oprah-level influence, he’s certainly come a long way since 2006. You can thank—or blame, depending on your viewpoint—Kobe Bryant for that.