After winning two NBA Championships with the Houston Rockets, Kenny Smith has become an important voice for the NBA. Smith joined the TNT Sports crew in 1997 and can be seen throughout the entire season on Inside The NBA with Charles Barkley and Ernie Johnson. While in studio on Wednesday night, Smith gave me a call to talk current NBA topics, the media and rap music affecting the community, and producing an upcoming TBS comedy with actor Jamie Foxx.
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Chris Yandek: Besides speaking to me this evening, what do you, Ernie, and Charles do while the games are going on?
Kenny Smith: “Well, the biggest thing we do is pay attention. I think that’s the one thing that we do. It’s really a more relaxed atmosphere than most people think. It’s not kind of structured where it’s one television. We got about 35 TVs going on right now with a lot of different things, but the game takes precedence over everything.”
CY: Has your perspective about the NBA changed being part of the media with TNT since 1997?
KS: “Well, I think what’s changed is the fact that I realize that now your voice is heard more. A lot of people think that their own ideas are conjured up by them and a lot of times it’s by the people that they are hearing and influenced them more than anything and they take it as their own. I am more careful that I really articulate what I want to say and believe in what I say.”
CY: It really was a no win situation for David Stern and the NBA fans on the suspensions in this Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs playoff series. What is your take on the situation?
KS: “I think that my take was it was expected. Would I have liked to see Amare Stoudemire play? Without question. Would I like to see Boris Diaw play in this game? Without question. It was definitely expected. It’s been said already and been a precedent set that would happen in those instances. I think it was very consistent of what they had been doing. A lot of people say maybe they need to look at the rule differently, but if the names were different I think people wouldn’t be in such an uproar.”
CY: Do you feel the owners and David Stern need to go back and evaluate the rules?
KS: “No. I mean, what do you want to do? My thing is you have to have some kind of order. When guys take 10-12 steps towards an incident, I think that is inciting. I think that is leaving the bench area. I think that can possibly lead to more things happening. I understand what it is. It’s unfortunate that it was Stoudemire and Diaw, two guys who were so integral in that part, but I totally understand the rule.”
CY: Similar incidents like this have happened in the past and it sure isn’t helping the league’s image. What needs to be done to prevent something like this again or is it preventable at all?
KS: “Well, I don’t think it’s hurt the image of the league in terms of the suspension because there really wasn’t – it was just physical play. In every sport, baseball, basketball, football, whatever, there is going to be some type of physical play. Baseball got sliding into the home plate. Basketball was what Robert Horry saw. Football is physical by nature. There is always going to be physical play. I don’t think this was more of a black eye or a detriment. There has been other instances, but I don’t think this is one of them.”
CY: Who’s your pick to win the NBA Championship?
KS: “I like San Antonio, but I am rooting for Phoenix. How’s that? They’re a team you love to watch. Once they are on you want to see them win, but I think that San Antonio actually is the better team.”
CY: You won two NBA Championships with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995. Does your mentality as a player change after you win one?
KS: “Without question. I think your focus changes. I think your appreciation changes. I think your insight changes on what it really takes to be a good player, to be a good team, to be around, or help make a good team. I think your perspective changes because you have validation on what works and what doesn’t. When you’re having that conversation you are so much more confident. When you are talking to your teammate, you are so much more assertive. When you are talking to the media, the fans, you are so much more knowledgeable. I think it definitely does help.”
CY: Are you and Charles Barkley The Odd Couple of sports analysis teams?
KS: “You know what’s funny? I think we are more alike than most people think. The one thing I always say about Chuck that people really don’t know is that he is a gym rat in the sense that he watches everything. Some time I will get a call at this time of night and he’s like, ‘Hey! Are you watching the game?’ I am like, what? That eight-grade game on the CST channel? ‘Yeah. I am watching the same thing.’ It’s amazing that the guy pays that much attention to basketball. He’s gonna say some things that are gonna knock you out. That kind of sticks with you and sometimes you lose value in the substance.”
CY: When did you come to the realization that Charles can say anything at any moment?
KS: “Day one. I think you were expecting it, but I don’t know if you believed it would happen. I think because of his looseness, it has also made mine. It also made my flexibility to push the envelope a little further as well.”
CY: Many athletes have accepted the opportunity. Have you been offered to do Dancing with the Stars or any other entertainment show?
KS: “Dancing with the Stars might not be in my future, but I dabble with things. I am actually now producing a show that’s in development now for TBS and doing things like that, more behind the scenes, but Dancing with the Stars might not be one of them.”
CY: Can you tell me anything about the show you are working on with TBS?
KS: “Sure. It’s a show that we are developing. It is myself, Jamie Foxx, our writers Lamont Ferrell, and Jamie Foxx’s team consists of Marcus King. We have been doing an interesting show about an NBA player that has to live at home. That’s the basis of it. It’s a sitcom obviously. A guy living at home with his family, a young guy who just makes the NBA.”
CY: After what happened with Don Imus, the black community seems to be taking more things into perspective even talking about rap music and its offensive lyrics and degrading women. Is rap music a problem and is it affecting today’s youth or is something more within the community than just that?
KS: “I think it’s a combination of all things. I think what is said is a reflection of what is going on. I think that’s probably part of it. The most interesting thing about Imus is that it feels like Imus kinda gets a free pass now that the attention is focused on why he said it and rap guys can say it when its inappropriate at all for anyone to say it firstly and someone who considered himself a journalist. At some point now he was kind of a shock jock and changed his mentality in terms of the last five years and being politically an activist and making statements. I think he became a journalist in certain senses. Then you would expect more. It’s more about acceptance and expectation. I think in our communities and our life, I think there are certain things you accept if you are in certain environments if you are in jail so to speak and certain things you would expect if you are in a boardroom. There is a different acceptance and expectation and there definitely was in his case.
I think that’s where it is in the community. Last thing on that, I think in terms of rap music, I look at it as the same way I look at if I have friends who act and play skinheads in movies and things like that. I look at it as an art form. I don’t take them literally. I think rap music has somehow gotten people to believe that everything they say is true when rock music, country music, R&B, no one else believes every lyric except for in rap.”
CY: I think being a journalist, your job is to understand people from all walks of life and backgrounds because you are covering people of all different ethnic backgrounds and it’s your job to understand who they really are as people and portray them across.
KS: “Without question. I think that’s the key is what you accept and what you expect from certain people and then what happens is if your expectations start not to get met then all of sudden it does slide into the community when you have a Don Imus, Ted Koppel, or anyone in the media that you respect. Then all of sudden maybe what these people are saying it is right. Some of the other times you listen to music or you listen to people and you say these people are ignorant. They don’t know. Then you look at the places where you expect a high view from, they are in the same viewpoint of mind and that’s when it creeps into other people’s minds who might have been in on that fence.”
CY: I know you do a lot for today’s youth with the basketball tournament you run. Tell me about that.
KS: “Well, I run basketball tournaments through the year. I am actually running one in Atlanta this weekend May 18, 19, 20 and I do one in July for fourth grade all the way to high school. I do one in July in California on the 6th, 7th, and 8th. All the information is on my website www.kennythejet.com and you can sign up. You got travel teams from all over the country coming to California and Atlanta in those two weeks.”
CY: Finally, what do you want people to remember most about you as a player?
KS: “As a player, I think that he achieves. I don’t think there was an ounce of talent more in me when I left. I think I achieved my goals. I achieved my talents and I met them. I would feel very disheartened if I felt I could’ve been a better player and wasn’t.”