Black head coaches and executives in professional sports is something longtime sports television personality Stephen A. Smith has long advocated for. Earlier this week, the “First Take” commentator seemingly reached his boiling point after blasting NBA players for not pushing for more Black representation in areas off the court, which ultimately resulted in him storming off set.
On Wednesday, June 2, Smith’s frustrations appeared to stem from the Boston Celtics’ announcement that they promoted head coach Brad Stevens to the president of basketball operations, replacing the newly retired Danny Ainge. Smith argues that due to what he deems Stevens’ poor performance as coach this season — a .500 season and first-round playoff exit at the hands of the powerhouse Brooklyn Nets — Stevens should’ve been fired instead of promoted.
He later drew comparisons to other recent hires that appeared to stem from favoritism of white coaches, including that of Steve Nash. The former two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, who ended his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014, signed a four-year contract in 2020 to coach for the Nets. Although he may be regarded as one of the best point guards in league history, Nash had little to no coaching experience prior to his hiring.
“Again, when we talk about Steve Nash and Tim Tebow, and Brad Stevens and stuff like that, I want to call out the NBA players. You got something to say about everything else, where you at!?” Smith yelled. “Steve Nash never coached on any level, And not only does he get the job, but he gets the job with the full support of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, who, by the way, never insisted that a Black candidate be interviewed.” Black athletes make up more the 70 percent of the NBA, bvby out of the 30 teams, only seven of them have Black head coaches.
“We supposed to be woke! We supposed to understand that that knee on George Floyd’s neck wasn’t just about violence and police brutality,” Smith explained. “It was also the figurative semblance that it provided, where you’re feeling like constantly people have their knee on your neck since the time you come out of the womb.”
Smith continued, “NBA players are some of the most powerful people in this world. When have they spoken up for Black coaches? When!? When have they spoken up for black executives!!? GMs, presidents of basketball operations, when has that happened? LeBron. All of them. Everybody. Where the hell have they been?!!”
Smith further blasted the players for not even stepping up when the media attempts to bring up the subject —specifically calling out Nets players Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for endorsing Nash’s hiring, and also calling out Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown for not speaking out when their former head coach Stevens was promoted.
Highlighting that glass ceiling problem isn’t limited to the NBA, Smith later suggested the league should adopt the NLF’s Rooney Rule that required teams to interview minorities for head coaching jobs and high-up front office positions. However, he quickly retracted that statement, saying that the policy is barely effective in the NFL. As he continued to get himself more worked up, Smith abruptly excused himself for fear he would “say something that might get me in trouble because I’m pissed.” He then took off his mic and jacket, and walked off set.
The discussion didn’t start with this Smith though. In February, Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum took to their Twitter accounts to address veteran assistant David Vanterpool being passed over in favor of Chris Finch when the Minnesota Timberwolves replaced Ryan Saunders. Lillard vouched for Vanterpool, noting his achievements. Meanwhile, McCollum pleaded to “Make it make sense. Respectfully.”
Smith later took to Twitter to address his fiery “First Take” episode, writing, “I only left for a minute. But I’m not about to lie. I’m pissed at these things happening — only to see Black Athletes say nothing — knowing these kind of opportunities don’t happen for us.” He added, “So much for being WOKE.”