JJ Redick questions Stephen A. Smith's basketball acumen

Stephen A. Smith is usually able to sidestep the “you didn’t play” criticism when debating former or current athletes. But JJ Redick decided not to let that fact go unnoticed.

On the heels of Nikola Jokić leading the Denver Nuggets to their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, LeBron James and the Lakers still dominated the coverage on ESPN.  And with LeBron hinting that he’s contemplating retirement during his postgame press conference, First Take asked whether we should believe that he’s considering stepping away.

Sitting on screen alongside Stephen A. Smith and Brian Windhorst, JJ Redick handled the question first and offered a measured response. The problem, however, is that by providing the athlete’s perspective on what may have been running through LeBron’s mind after he was knocked out of the NBA Playoffs at 38 years old, Redick’s response may have been too rational. Redick offered multiple sides to the argument, while Smith prefers his guests to have a more definitive answer and maybe even a “take” on First Take.


“Go ahead, Windy,” Smith said after Redick’s answer. “I mean, I listened to every word JJ just said. I don’t understand much of what he said, but I listened…I didn’t comprehend, I’m sorry.”

“Well, you didn’t play, Stephen A,” Redick fired back. “You didn’t play. You don’t understand athletic mortality. Three games at – wherever – South Dakota, Winston-Salem State doesn’t count.”

Later in the show, Redick apologized for letting Smith get under his skin, causing him to confuse Winston-Salem State with South Dakota, adding, “I did not mean any respect to that University, or to you.” Smith received a scholarship to play basketball at Winston-Salem State University in the late ‘80s, but his career on the court was derailed after suffering a knee injury his first year.

“I got a degree and I’m on TV with you. I must be doing something right,” Smith said seemingly unfazed by Redick’s criticism.

Redick appeared to reach for the “you didn’t play” argument in jest, and Smith didn’t seem overly offended. But it’s a tired narrative that gets used by former and current athletes, usually when they’re boxed in a corner.

Not playing at a high level shouldn’t automatically dismiss a person from learning the game enough to analyze it. Are there times when people who haven’t played a sport at a high level make unfair assumptions and assessments? Of course, but that shouldn’t automatically dismiss a person’s ability to be informed without playing professionally. And Redick did offer an apology later:

[First Take]

About Brandon Contes

Brandon Contes is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously helped carve the sports vertical for Mediaite and spent more than three years with Barrett Sports Media. Send tips/comments/complaints to bcontes@thecomeback.com