ESPN's Knicks-Pacers pregame show went wild with Stephen A. Smith. Screengrab via ESPN

On Sunday afternoon, ABC and ESPN had coverage of the highly anticipated Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Except, if you watched the network’s NBA Countdown pregame coverage, you would be forgiven for thinking only one of those teams was playing.

ESPN (and much of the sports media and overall media in general) have been accused of having east coast bias for years and favoring large markets and huge brands over anyone else. It’s why the Yankees and Red Sox seemingly always play on Sunday Night Baseball, why the Cowboys are talked about ad infinitum, and why the Lakers get so many nationally televised games even when they’re not good.

But ESPN is going next level to feed this narrative by focusing a good chunk of their NBA playoffs coverage on the fact that Stephen A. Smith is a Knicks fan and openly rooting for the team live on the air.

There’s nothing wrong with Smith acknowledging his fandom, he’s more entertainer than reporter or analyst these days anyways. But for some reason, ESPN is making Smith’s Knicks fandom a centerpiece of their coverage throughout the series. The network has made Smith seemingly a star on equal footing with the best players in the series like Jalen Brunson and Tyrese Haliburton as if he’s playing in the games. Judging by conversation earlier in the week, maybe ESPN thinks he is playing!

Don’t believe us? Just watch the ABC intro and who the network showed walking into MSG on Sunday.

And then at the end of NBA Countdown, viewers at home (Knicks AND Pacers fans alike) were treated to a pep talk from Smith to his beloved New Yorkers, complete with a Spike Lee cameo where SAS got so worked up he knocked off his hat.

ESPN’s studio coverage has been through a number of iterations over the last several years with a revolving door of hosts, analysts, and personalities. They’ve always been compared to TNT’s beloved Inside the NBA and always fallen well short. But through all the different attempts to put something competitive and quality together, this Knicks-P̶a̶c̶e̶r̶s̶ pregame show may be rock bottom.

Unless you were a diehard Knicks or Stephen A. Smith fan, you were likely changing the channel as it was completely one-sided and the basketball played second fiddle to one of the studio personalities.

It’s not like Inside the NBA focuses 100% on basketball, and they definitely give the latitude to let Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and company be themselves and be entertaining. But TNT can pull it off and do so naturally while never making themselves bigger than the game.

On the other hand, if the Knicks do make it to the NBA Finals, we may Stephen A. Smith pull a Fan Man to try to force his way into the game himself.