Stephen A. Smith on Kawhi Leonard

ESPN’s First Take has gone after Kawhi Leonard in recent days, with Stephen A. Smith labeling him “the absolute worst superstar” and Chris Russo questioning the Los Angeles Clippers’ forward for missing playoff games.

Precisely as those harsh opinions were being spewed Wednesday morning on First Take, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Leonard has been diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Despite the updated information, Smith and Russo refused to offer any remorse for their opinions of Leonard and his injuries.

“I’m not in any way questioning the legitimacy of Kawhi Leonard’s injury,” Smith acknowledged Wednesday morning. “But he is the absolute worst superstar you could possibly have on your team. He’s barely ever there. And on top of it all, he does nothing to market or promote your franchise…Steve Ballmer and the Los Angeles Clippers should force Kawhi Leonard to retire.”

While Smith said he was not questioning the legitimacy of Leonard’s injury, he noted we never see the Clippers’ forward get hurt on the court.

“Here’s the difference between him and a Paul George or various other people,” Smith explained. “We see them get hurt. We’ll watch Kawhi drop 38 one game, 31 in Game 2, walk off the court and the next thing you know Ty Lue gets a ‘he ain’t available today…and he ain’t available the next game.’ You don’t know why, but you hear and you hear and you hear stories.”

Despite stating he believes Leonard is legitimately hurt, that sounds like the diatribe of a person questioning whether a player truly needed to miss games during the Clippers’ first-round playoff series loss to the Phoenix Suns. And while Smith stood by his claim that he believed Leonard was hurt, Chris Russo managed to be even less supportive of the Clippers’ star sitting out playoff games with an injury.

“Gut it out! Get out there and play! Try it! Play 10 minutes. See what you got in ya. He didn’t even try it. You can’t do this, this is a playoff scenario,” Russo ranted. “Willis Reed played. Bird played with concussions. Play! I don’t buy it.”

“I didn’t go there,” Smith said, wanting to make sure he wasn’t accused of questioning Leonard’s injury even though he already questioned why we never actually see him get hurt. “Everybody knows he’s injured.”

“I’ll say it. I have no problem saying it,” Russo said before asking, “Are they protecting him? How do we explain his great performance in the first two games of this series and then he goes out 24 hours later and he can’t play…you gotta give it a go for a few minutes.”

It was explained by Charania, who reported on Leonard’s torn meniscus while the Clippers forward was being ripped on First Take. Smith and Russo were not updated on this report during the segment, but around 30 minutes later, they briefly revisited the topic to acknowledge the severity of Leonard’s injury.

“No,” Russo said definitively after being asked if his opinion of Leonard changed.

The media can question a player’s talent, performance and execution during games, but questioning a player’s injury is almost always a bad take. Questioning a player’s injury even after they were reported as having a torn meniscus is a reprehensible take. And this adds to the takes on Leonard on First Take this week.

[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