Jay Williams is willing to get heated with Stephen A. Smith on First Take because he’s not intimidated by ESPN’s foremost personality.
Last month, after the Brooklyn Nets traded Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks, Smith and Williams had a tense exchange on First Take. During the segment, Smith appeared offended as Williams questioned whether his repeated criticism of Irving was personal. The exchange was tense enough for First Take host Molly Qerim to question whether the debate over Irving was turning into a personal rift between Smith and Williams.
Serious sparks are flying between Stephen A. Smith and Jay Williams over Kyrie Irving pic.twitter.com/Cp7MaSeTQD
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) February 6, 2023
After Smith addressed the exchange during a recent appearance on The Mike Missanelli Podcast, Williams joined Owen Poindexter on the Front Office Sports Today podcast this week where he offered his assessment of their viral First Take segment.
“I wasn’t intimidated playing against Kobe Bryant, what the hell makes you think I’m gonna be intimidated going against Stephen A. Smith,” Williams told Front Office Sports. “I’ve played against some of the best athletes in the world, I’ve sparred with some of the smartest people on this planet…I don’t feel the need to back down from anybody and I think Stephen A. Smith is one of the best there is in TV, I also believe that I’m one of the best at what I do.”
“I also understand the game,” Williams continued, explaining that he prepares for shows by studying personality traits and taking notes. “When I come on First Take, I’m ready to spar. You can call it personal, you can call it entertainment, I don’t give a damn what you call it. I’m ready to engage.”
During their First Take debate about Irving, Smith scoffed at the notion that he was letting his personal feelings about the NBA star bleed into his commentary on ESPN. But when he joined former Philly sports radio host Mike Missanelli on his podcast earlier this month, Smith admitted to having differences with Irving “on a personal level,” giving credence to Williams’ complaint.
“I never take it personally,” Williams said of his on-air bouts with Smith. “Things may get heated, we may yell at each other, we had an awkward as hell moment the other day when I felt like he was giving personal takes on Kyrie. He said he wasn’t. Now, I stopped talking about it. He talked about it afterwards on another pod…he talked about taking it personal. I’m like ‘OK, got it! Just tell me it’s personal!’ I’m willing to engage, pound for pound, that’s what TV should be, I think that makes it entertaining.”
Williams has since returned to First Take several times after that “awkward as hell moment,” with Smith recently referring to him as a close friend, a sentiment the former Duke basketball star echoed on the Front Office Sports podcast.
“Stephen A. Smith is my boy, Stephen A. Smith is like a bigger brother to me,” Williams admitted. “What do brothers do? They fight sometimes…I know what the pecking order is. I know who the highest paid man is on our network. I know the clout that he brings. Now that’s not gonna force me to back down from him, I’m gonna engage…I got nothing but love.”