These days, what Stephen A. Smith wants at ESPN, Stephen A. gets.
Next up, Magic Johnson.
Smith wants to team up with Johnson, according to sources, possibly on “NBA Countdown,” the pregame show that leads into the NBA Finals and other marquee games.
Smith’s ideal setup would be to have a Big 3 that also includes “Pardon the Interruption” co-host Michael Wilbon, who often works alongside Smith on “SportsCenter.”
Nothing is finalized, so it hasn’t been determined whether the potential show would have a traditional host.
In the wake of Maria Taylor’s and Rachel Nichols’ departures, Jalen Rose, Jay Williams and Adrian Wojnarowski are the “Countdown” incumbents, while Richard Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins and Chiney Ogwumike would figure to be candidates to join the show.
ESPN also has interest in Draymond Green, but, as an active player, the Warriors forward would only be available on occasion.
Green has done work for TNT.
ESPN declined comment for this story.
In the past, the NBA has been hesitant about having Smith on the main pregame show for the NBA Finals. The league feels his style is too opinionated and not the right tone to lead into its main event, according to sources.
But it is a different time, with Smith at the height of his career, a $12-million-a-year-man who has the ears of top ESPN executives.
Smith already does a regular-season pregame show on Wednesdays, which is not part of “Countdown,” but rather his own mini “SportsCenter.” This show also could be a landing spot to team Smith with Johnson and Wilbon.
Smith is close with both Johnson and Wilbon, and there is a belief that camaraderie could come through on the air.
Smith and Wilbon usually work well together when they do appear alongside each other on ESPN.
While one of the all-time great NBA players, Johnson has not been great on TV in his past studio roles.
The 62-year-old Johnson, who previously was on ESPN’s NBA Finals studio shows, also will not come cheap. Johnson most recently served as president of basketball operations for the Lakers before abruptly stepping down in 2019.
ESPN is revamping all of its NBA programming in light of the Nichols’ saga.
More than a year ago, Nichols’ made private comments in which she disparaged ESPN’s record on diversity and questioned Taylor’s ascension to the NBA Finals’ hosting job that Nichols had contractually agreed to.
ESPN has struggled to handle the situation in the aftermath of a New York Times story that made Nichols’ comments public in July. Last month, Taylor, who is black, left for NBC. On Wednesday, ESPN effectively parted ways with Nichols, who is white, by cancelling her show, “The Jump.” But the network still is obligated to pay Nichols her salary, which is believed to be around $2 million, over the next year.
ESPN promoted Dave Roberts to oversee NBA coverage in place of Stephanie Druley, who took the fall for the mishandling of the Nichols-Taylor situation.
Roberts and Smith are known to be close, as Smith has said in many interviews.
Roberts granted Smith’s wish to rid “First Take” of Max Kellerman, who is moving to mornings on ESPN Radio and will have his own afternoon TV show.
There also could be a role on “First Take” for Johnson to be an occasional verbal sparring partner for Smith, as part of a rotation.
Michael Irvin likely will be part of the rotation, with Mondays a potential destination due to his football background, according to sources.
ESPN will likely use its internal analysts, such as Marcus Spears, to fill the Kellerman void as well.
While nothing is finalized, Smith has been receiving what he wants. Now, Smith wants to work with Johnson and Wilbon. Stay tuned.
Papa Clicker thinks that basketball fans will enjoy “Boxed Out of the NBA” by Syl Sobel and Jay Rosenstein. It describes the tales of the Eastern Basketball League, which existed from 1946-1978. The EBL featured a bunch of players who were unable to play in the then smaller NBA for a variety of reasons.
The EBL played in small towns on weekends for nominal pay. As a college student at Lehigh in the 1960s, Papa Clicker attended a game in Allentown. It was a fun watch.
As for “Boxed Out,” it receives 4.2 Clickers, recommended for readers who want something a little bit different.