Skip to main content

Among sports fans, Stephen A. Smith is a divisive figure. Some find the ESPN personality entertaining, while others view him as everything that’s wrong about argument-based sports media.

While it might be easy to think of Stephen A. as a talking head whose only job is to shout a controversial take as loudly as possible, there is a human being underneath that exterior. A recent interview with JJ Redick showed that to the world.

Stephen A. Smith recounts a beef with Allen Iverson

During his time on the media scene, Stephen A. Smith has ruffled plenty of feathers. On one painful occasion, though, the person on the other side of the argument was Allen Iverson.

“It’s hard to admit this as, you know, as an objective observer, a journalist, commentator now, all of this other stuff, but I love Allen Iverson,” Smith explained on an episode of The Old Man and the Three. “He’s like a little brother to me. And covering him, being an African-American from the streets of New York, knowing his story and knowing what he endured, we went through a lot together covering him. I don’t believe I’m sitting here in this position today if it were not for Allen Iverson.”

In this instance, Iverson was away from the team for what had been described as a personal reason. A video emerged, however, of the guard partying. Smith was told that he either had to write that story himself or it would be taken out of his hands and be written by the department.

Stephen A. wrote the story. Iverson was “incredibly hurt,” and the two men didn’t speak for years.

“And we couldn’t connect for a couple of years,” Smith continued. “And I heard, I started hearing that if he, ‘Man, if y’all saw each other, it would be a problem, man. He wants to put his hands on you, whatever.’”

Despite that chatter, the reporter headed down to Atlanta and found AI. There, they managed to bury the hatchet once and for all.

“We met up, and it wasn’t any of that,” the ESPN personality said. “He said, ‘Man, I don’t care about the article. It’s that it came from you.’ And, when he said that, I felt this small. Because I got it. I didn’t know. He has a job as a player, I have a job as a reporter, and that was it. By that time, I was a columnist, etcetera, etcetera, and I looked at it, and I never thought. I’m here thinking he had a problem with the story. He had no problem with the story. He said, ‘I deal with that every day. It’s the fact that your name is on the byline.’ And I really didn’t say much, but when I saw the hurt in his eyes, the story wasn’t worth it to me.”

That anecdote shows a different side of Stephen A.

Allen Iverson (L) and Stephen A. Smith (R)
Allen Iverson and Steven A. Smith stand together at a 2005 event. | Johnny Nunez/WireImage

Stephen A. Smith Details the Episode That Nearly Ended More Than Just His ESPN Career

As I somewhat mentioned in the introduction, Stephen A. Smith isn’t the most popular guy in sports media. He’s usually viewed as the prototypical talking head, yelling about whatever contrary take will grab the most attention. There’s a reason there’s a famous tweet about him reading a Chinese food menu, after all.

In this anecdote, however, we see a different side of Smith. While there’s probably some editorial license – we aren’t hearing Iverson’s take on events – the former columnist comes across as someone who tries to toe the line between being a responsible journalist and covering someone who he truly respects. 

While you could argue that shouting on First Take doesn’t exactly strike that balance — you have to talk the talk and walk the walk — Smith’s admission that he felt small upon hearing Iverson’s response also shows a level of vulnerability and humanity that we rarely see. Stephen A., for better or worse, is usually yelling, arguing, and explaining why you’re wrong. In this case, though, he seemed like an actual person capable of hearing someone else’s perspective and understanding where he had fallen short.

While that perspective probably won’t change too many opinions about Stephen A. Smith, it does make him seem like a bit more of a real person and a little less like a cartoon character. If nothing else, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.