Other than the All-Star Game, the highlight of NBA All-Star Weekend has often been the Slam Dunk Contest. But this year, the exhibition was, well, anything but a slam dunk.
The contest was widely panned on social media, largely for competitors missing so many dunks. But lack of creativity and a serious lack of star power — something that’s plagued what used to be a showcase for the league — were also cited as major problems.
Simply put, when the league’s most explosive dunkers (hello, Ja Morant) aren’t participating in the contest, it’s a huge problem. The days of Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins wowing fans seem so long ago.
So it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Stephen A. Smith would be ready to unleash on the NBA Slam Dunk Contest during Monday’s First Take. And unlike Juan Toscano-Anderson, Cole Anthony, Jalen Green, and eventual winner Obi Toppin, Stephen A. did not disappoint.
“That was the worst slam dunk contest in the history of basketball,” Smith said as Molly Qerim and Kendrick Perkins sat back in anticipation of the fury to come. “It was a national atrocity. It was awful. Somebody needs to say it, so I’m gonna say it.”
OK, plenty of people were saying it. However, they’re not Stephen A. Smith and they don’t have the national platform of ESPN’s First Take. Apologies for the interruption. Let Smith continue.
“Now I’m happy that a Knick won something. We actually had a New York Knick that won something. That was Obi Toppin,” Smith added, compelling Qerim to cover her face with her notes. “It was so bad, it’s one of the rare moments that I think we should actually hide the trophy. We should actually hide the trophy. That’s how bad it was.”
The clip above has to be watched in its entirety to get the full effect, including Smith saying he, at 54 with bad knees, could have missed as many dunks as the professionals who participated and his proposal for a national slam dunk tournament to find athletes who can put on a show.
Sure, Stephen A. could have celebrated Steph Curry’s 50-point performance in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game. And he did, calling him the face of the NBA right now over LeBron James. But greatness doesn’t work up nearly as much outrage as mediocrity or failure. And the tirade wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable. That probably wasn’t an All-Star Stephen A. rant, but it was a good one.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at [email protected].
Stephen A. Smith: ‘People Don’t Care’ About Baseball Discussion on ESPN
“Tell the baseball community to shut the hell up.”
On Thursday night ahead of the New York Yankees’ matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays, ESPN featured commentator Stephen A. Smith will be on hand from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y. to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Smith, a fixture on ESPN programs First Take and NBA Countdown, along with hosting his own podcast, The Stephen A. Smith Show, grew up in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. and frequently watched Yankees games with his father. Despite living closer to Shea Stadium, he was not allowed to watch any New York Mets games until the age of 18, solidifying his love for the “Bronx Bombers.”
Throughout Thursday’s edition of First Take, Smith mentioned how excited he was for the moment and practiced throwing a baseball with ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky. One day earlier, however, he was criticized for a rare baseball take he made on the show pertaining to Los Angeles Angels superstar two-way player Shohei Ohtani.
Smith articulated that Ohtani is not worth $500 million because of the empty seats he frequently sees when the Angels take the field. After a promising first half, the Halos have struggled mightily down the stretch run and currently sport a 69-83 record, good for fourth place in the American League West division.
Within his podcast, he received a call from Preston Miklich who operates a YouTube channel focused on baseball called “Fuzzy.” The outlet has 469,000 subscribers and is a popular spot for baseball fans to catch up on news and rumors while also hearing informed opinions about the game.
During his conversation with Smith, Milkich took the time to inform him that the Angels are fourth in road attendance in the 2023 Major League Baseball regular season. In his response, the host appreciated being informed of the statistic and divulged that while it is an adequate figure compared to the competition, it may be comparatively underwhelming because of the diminished popularity of the game in recent years.
Attendance for Major League Baseball games has been on the rise throughout the 2023 season, with the league reporting a 9% increase year-over-year (YoY). Smith previously made insensitive comments about the Japanese superstar, saying that it was bad that one of the game’s preeminent superstars could not speak English, and apologized after an onslaught of criticism.
“We’re just wondering when it comes to your takes with baseball – we want you to talk baseball; we want ESPN to bring Baseball Tonight back, we miss it dearly,” Miklich explained, “but the baseball community almost thinks that you kind of peak on feelings and we think, ‘Okay, is baseball going to be done on ESPN?’”
The amount of baseball programming on the network has diminished in recent years compared to other properties, yet there is still an edition of Baseball Tonight that airs before the weekly broadcast of Sunday Night Baseball. In response to Miklich’s question, Smith bluntly expressed, “Tell the baseball community to shut the hell up.”
After pushback from Miklich, Smith chided him for interrupting his response and asked him to let him finish his statement. He then divulged that he does not have much time to watch baseball because of the responsibilities he has in other sports, revealing that he only watches New York Yankees games. Smith defended his position because of the fact that First Take rarely discusses baseball and, when it does, often has experts of the game on the panel, such as Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo. The Walt Disney Company pays a reported $550 million annually for MLB rights, which includes Sunday Night Baseball, the MLB Little League Classic, Home Run Derby and Wild Card series.
“I’m not on High Heat on the MLB Network trying to talk about baseball as if I’m watching every game and I’m an aficionado,” Smith said. “I don’t get to do that.”
Smith referenced a previous occurrence of him appearing on a UFC show before a fight between Conor McGregor and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. While he was on stage, he was asked what he thought would happen on the fight, but qualified his take by elocuting that he is not an expert on the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion.
“I’m the face of ESPN,” Smith explicated. “ESPN said, ‘Could you come on the air with us because we want to see what your prediction would be for this fight…’”
Smith reminded Miklich that Russo, who hosts his own show on MLB Network, agreed with him that Ohtani is not worth $500 million. Moreover, he acknowledged that the morning debate program does not address many baseball topics because of the landscape of sports media consumers engaging with the content.
“People don’t care ratings-wise when we’re watching baseball,” Smith said. “We’re trying to change that.”
WWE Moving Smackdown From FOX to USA in 2024
“Under the terms of the deal, NBCUniversal will produce four primetime WWE specials each year too. Those will run on NBC.”
All good things must come to an end. That is the case with the relationship between the WWE and FOX. Smackdown will leave the network next year and return to USA Network in a new media rights agreement.
Several reports from earlier this year have indicated that FOX was unlikely to renew the deal.
A five-year deal worth a reported $287 million per year between the WWE and NBCUniversal begins in October 2024. It will put Smackdown on USA, where it ran from 2016 until 2019, and has a total value of more than $1.4 billion.
Under the terms of the deal, NBCUniversal will produce four prime time WWE specials each year too beginning during the 2024-25 season. Those will run on NBC.
“It’s a privilege and thrill to continue NBCU’s decades-long partnership with WWE which has helped cement USA Network’s consistent position as the top-rated cable entertainment network in live viewership,” Frances Berwick, chairman of NBCUniversal Entertainment, said in a statement. “With Friday nights on USA, primetime specials on NBC, and the WWE hub on Peacock, we’ll continue to use the power of our portfolio to super-serve this passionate fanbase.”
This does not mean all of WWE’s media rights are accounted for. The company is still in discussions for a new deal for Raw, which it expects to reach next year.
USA has enjoyed a more than 20-year relationship with Raw. It has been the anchor of the network’s Monday night programming and is routinely WWE’s most-viewed TV product.
NBCUniversal’s Peacock is also the home of WWE Network. The addition of Smackdown should strengthen the company’s position with the WWE.
Ourand reports that while the signs seem to indicate that WWE will exclusively be doing business with NBCUniversal, nothing is decided. Disney and Amazon have both met with TKO Holdings about acquiring some WWE programming and the companies have discussed the potential for Raw to move to a different night as part of a new deal.
ESPN Decision Not to Show Nick Chubb Replay ‘Out of Respect to the Viewers’
“We viewed the replays in our production truck immediately after the play and decided to use discretion out of respect to the viewers and Nick Chubb.”
The decision made not to show a replay of Nick Chubb’s injury on ABC’s Monday Night Football broadcast has been met with scrutiny. The network did not offer a detailed explanation for the decision.
“We viewed the replays in our production truck immediately after the play and decided to use discretion out of respect to the viewers and Nick Chubb,” an ESPN spokesperson said when asked by The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch how the decision was made.
The spokesperson added that the decision did not come down from network brass. It was made onsite by the Monday Night Football production crew.
On the broadcast, Troy Aikman revealed that the injury was “as bad as you can imagine” after Joe Buck told the audience that he had been informed that the network had decided not to replay the interview.
While some members of the public praised the decision, some sports media professionals have had the opposite reaction, including Dan Patrick, who said ABC had a duty to the viewers to show a replay to put the sport and the event in context.