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Some sports stars become famous over time. Some never make it in their chosen field. And some, like Kobe Bryant, were stars from the very beginning. Others don’t become famous until after they retire, and not always for the thing they got their start in. George Foreman is a perfect example of this — he earned more money from his grill than he did as a boxer. Perhaps another example of this is Kenny Smith.

Kenny Smith the analyst

Kenny Smith is currently an analyst for TNT’s Inside the NBA. He hosts alongside Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ernie Johnson. He’s quite good at his job and has been doing it since he retired from professional basketball in 1997. The show is meant to cover pregames, halftime, and postgames during the regular season and playoffs and has been on the air for over two decades.

But it’s more than basketball coverage. While it may have started that way, it became what it is today after Smith joined the show, according to the New York Times. His off-the-cuff demeanor was well-received by fans, and the addition of Barkley in 2000 and O’Neal in 2011 have only added value.

Smith is the foundation of the show, which gives cultural influence beyond the court by mixing politics, comedy, unpredictability, emotion, and personality. From Donald Trump to the protests in Ferguson, nothing was off-limits, which Smith is particularly proud of.

Barkley is often Smith’s best sparring partner and helped bring the willingness to engage in more non-sports topics to the show. Of course, Smith holds his own as a do-say-wear what he wants type of guy.

As Smith has described, Barkley brings the flashlight, but Smith is the floodlight. The guys are certainly a great team, allowed to be themselves with minimal scripts. They’ve created something bigger than basketball, where people don’t always watch the game, they watch the show. 

Smith played well in the NBA, but he really built his following and celebrity through hard work and audacity. He did something most athletes can’t do — he made a name for himself with a second act. Today, he has a production company as well. In the future, he has mentioned wanting to own either an NBA team or even the TNT studios. 

Kenny Smith’s NBA days

Kenny Smith dribbles the ball for the Houston Rockets
Kenny Smith playing for the Houston Rockets | PAUL K. BUCK/AFP via Getty Images

Smith was born in Queens in 1965. He played from an early age, and by 1983 he was a McDonald’s All American and one of the best high school players around. He played for North Carolina in college and was known for his great assists, especially for the college level.

In 1987, he was drafted in what was considered a weak class as the 6th pick by the Sacramento Kings. The draft report was that the 6’3″, 175 lb Smith handled the ball well and was able to get it to the open man. 

The Kings weren’t a great team though, with a record of 24-58, giving the rookie a record 35 minutes of court time per game. He didn’t like losing since he hadn’t done much of that in his life.

After two and a half seasons, he was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, but a half year later, in 1990, he ended up in Houston. Here, he shined as he was paired with Hakeem Olajuwon. He had his best year with an average of 17.7 points, 7.1 assists, and 2.1 rebounds per game. 

In 1992, he recorded a 43% shot average from downtown. In 1994, while he didn’t have the greatest finals series, he won his first championship. The next year, he broke a record with 3pt shots — 7 in one game, during the finals, which Houston again won.

Smith always maintained a good shooting average, was a great leader, and a perfect match for Olajuwon. He was more than an average point guard, even if he was never a superstar like his costars. 

Other players during his time on the court

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As a basketball fan, you’ll probably recognize the names Shaq or Barkley before you’ll recognize Smith. There’s no denying the former were superstar players.

While Smith has an above-average career, he wasn’t at the level of his costars. Shaq’s career averages were 23.7 points, 2.5 assists, and 10.9 rebounds — that puts him behind Smith with assists. Shaq also won more championships, with a total of four, and is in the Hall of Fame. He also makes far more than Smith could ever dream of — at least if you count up his net worth — $400 million compared to $20 million.

Barkley’s career averages were 22.1 points, 3.9 assists, and 11.7 rebounds. While he never won a championship, he is in the Hall of Fame, and also makes more than Smith, although only $40 million total. When you look at this in comparison to Smith, it’s hard to say if he’s better than Smith. Here, you might have found an equal, since Smith won championships and had more assists. 

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference