Both built large fanbases and developed plenty of criticism for their outspoken takes and commentary. Hill may credit some of that success to a chance encounter involving Smith at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Stephen A. Smith inspired Jemele Hill at the 2004 Summer Olympics
Stephen A. Smith is loud and proud, and that mentality earned him a great deal of notoriety, recognition, and money in the process.
His willingness to speak so openly about what’s on his mind left a profound impression on Jemele Hill. In a 2019 interview with GQ, the ex-SportsCenter host recalled hearing Smith vent at the 2004 Summer Olympics about the “abundance of stairs” where he’d been staying.
Smith, then writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer, made it clear that he felt he deserved better, and his attitude shocked the 28-year-old reporter.
“I was honestly impressed because I really wasn’t used to seeing Black reporters behave as if they were entitled to things. I thought that was cool because it showed me the kind of self-confidence I hope to have at some point. In a lot of [Black people’s] jobs and positions, people are constantly asking us questions or putting us under a particular scrutiny. Almost as if to say, ‘How did you get here?‘”Jemele Hill
Soon enough, the two would be working together at ESPN. Hill joined the Worldwide Leader as a national columnist in the fall of 2006, a year after Smith began hosting a show on ESPN Radio.
Smith and Hill later became superstars at ESPN
By 2017, one could have argued that Hill and Smith were two of the three biggest names at ESPN. Max Kellerman, Smith’s co-host on First Take, likely would have been the other.
Hill climbed from an online writing position to co-hosting the 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter. She took over the SportsCenter role with Michael Smith, her co-host on His & Hers.
Smith had been an ESPN contributor and panelist for years. It wasn’t until 2012 that he, along with Skip Bayless, became global icons. Their back-and-forth commentary on First Take, coupled with the growing popularity of social media, influenced ESPN to embrace debate.
Smith and Hill have had branching career paths
Hill and Smith are still going strong in 2021, although they’ve walked separate paths in recent years.
After a year co-hosting SportsCenter, Hill and ESPN parted ways in 2018. Her final months at the Worldwide Leader involved various controversies and criticism from then-President Donald Trump, a frequent target of her online commentary.
Hill currently hosts several podcasts, including Jemele Hill is Unbothered, a Spotify exclusive. She and Cari Champion, another ex-ESPN colleague, began co-hosting Cari & Jemele (Won’t) Stick to Sports on Vice in 2019.
As for Smith, he signed a contract extension in 2019, which will reportedly pay him close to $8 million in yearly salary. He turns 54 later this year and has shown no desire to retire.