Long-time ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith has made an entire career off of the force of his personality. His success and fame, along with his ubiquity and longevity, are a testament to the notion that it doesn’t matter so much what you say, as long as you say it loudly and with conviction.
He spent a large chunk of his career sitting across the desk from long-time sparring partner Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take, until the latter left for Fox Sports and was replaced with the equally pugnacious Max Kellerman.
But Smith’s career wasn’t always so rosy. There was a stretch during his early days at ESPN when the network cancelled his show Quite Frankly and didn’t renew his contract. Smith had an opportunity to interview Donald Trump on Quite Frankly, and he claims the now president offered him some of the most important advice of his career.
“I need you to brace yourself,” he said. “What I’m about to tell you is gonna blow you away. And I promise you, it will be in your article. Book it: what I’m about to tell you right now. And I wasn’t going to tell you unless you asked. The defining moment in terms of this epiphany, where it elevated to another level, was courtesy of a man now known as the President of the United States of America, Mr. Donald Trump.”
Trump was a guest on “Quite Frankly,” which aired from 2005 to 2007. “And, at one point—I don’t think this was an on-air segment—he said, ‘Stephen, when you go to a bank and you borrow three million dollars, and you can’t pay it back, you’ve got a problem. But when you go to a bank and you borrow three hundred million dollars, and you can’t pay it back, we’ve got a problem.’ ” (A variation of this maxim is often attributed to J. Paul Getty, whose company, coincidentally, provided the early backing for ESPN.) “He said, ‘The moral of the story is, The more they invest in you the more they must insure your success. If you come cheap, you’re expendable. But, if you’re expensive, you’re valued. Don’t ever forget that.’ That’s what he told me. I never forgot it. Little did I know he would become the President.
“I’m incredibly disappointed in him behaviorally,” he quickly added. “But that’s it. I don’t get into the politics.”
It doesn’t seem all that surprising that Smith would benefit from advice from a fellow world-renown blowhard, but Cunningham’s piece is truly a fascinating portrait of one of the sports world’s biggest and most overbearing personalities.
There are all sorts of interesting tidbits about Smith’s life and career, such as his recurring role on General Hospital, his brief enrollment at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and perhaps most entertaining, a lengthy physical description of Smith that includes such as gems as “His hairline sits ever farther back from his squirming eyebrows, and his shifting expanse of forehead signals emotions before they make their way out of his mouth. It clenches into a furious rictus, or gathers itself into three befuddled folds as his brows jolt upward…”
It’s well worth the read, regardless – or maybe even especially? – of how you feel about Smith and his whole manner of being.