Wednesday’s episode of ESPN’s First Take was an unusual one, given that it was the first show after Tuesday’s announcement that Bayless would be leaving ESPN after the NBA Finals. The show opened with a brief discussion of Bayless’ exit, but no official confirmation that he is in fact headed to Fox. Instead, it mostly focused on Molly Qerim and Stephen A. Smith saying nice things about Bayless and Bayless reciprocating:
“Much love, even to the haters” is such a classic Bayless line, and the way Bayless and Smith talk about each other here does illustrate how impressive their chemistry was (and shows that this doesn’t seem likely to be a messy exit a la Michael Strahan and Kelly Ripa). That chemistry was a big part of what made First Take so successful for ESPN; while many didn’t agree with what these guys said, the arguments and back-and-forth between them were quite appealing to many and drew a big audience. Bayless isn’t wrong to call this “the greatest times of my career,” either, as it certainly made him much more prominent than anything else he’s done. It’s going to be interesting to see how playing out the string here goes for Bayless, as there are still several months of First Take ahead for him, but he also now can perhaps get even more provocative knowing that he has a new job lined up. We’ll see how it goes.