Stephen A. Smith discusses the passing of Jerry West. Screen grab: ‘First Take’

The passing of Jerry West has provided many in sports media with the opportunity to reflect on their own connections with the legendary NBA player and executive.

That includes Stephen A. Smith, who revealed on Wednesday’s episode of First Take that his personal relationship with the 14-time All-Star was born out of a take that he figured West would find blasphemous.

“The first time I had a conversation with him, and that was when our relationship really took off, because he heard me saying that the silhouette should be changed to Michael Jordan from him,” said Smith. “And he wasn’t calling to refute it. He was calling because he felt like I sounded like it’s something he would refute. And he was saying, ‘Absolutely not. I think Michael Jordan’s the greatest. I think he deserves it.’

“And I said, ‘Sir, I’m sorry that I gave you the impression that I have an issue with you because I don’t. I know who the hell I’m talking to. I know how great you are. Where are these reports that you’re getting this stuff from? I didn’t say that stuff about you.'”

Smith’s aforementioned take appears to have occurred during the 2016 NBA Finals, coming in response to West defending LeBron James against criticism he was facing at the time. And it’s understandable why the ESPN star figured West would take offense to it, as the clip still lives on ESPN’s website under the headline “Stephen A. says West doesn’t deserve to be NBA silhouette.”

“I have profound respect for Jerry West… but I would tell you, he doesn’t deserve to be the NBA silhouette,” Smith said at the time. “The NBA needs to get with modern times and understand that, first of all, most basketball fans don’t know who the hell Jerry West was as a player. And even if you did know, regardless of your greatness — and you were great — eight Finals losses in nine tries. That is below mediocre.

“There’s a gentleman who owns the Charlotte Hornets. His name is Michael Jordan. Six championships in six tries and six NBA Finals MVPs. That’s who should be the NBA silhouette and they need to change the damn thing immediately.”

To be honest, it’s somewhat surprising West didn’t take issue with Smith’s statements. And it’s perhaps even more surprising that they paved the way for the two to form a years-long connection.

“From that moment forward, we hit it off, and we kept in touch throughout the years until, over the last couple of years or so, things were dwindling down a little bit,” he said. “Obviously, I got a lot busier, and he’s always running around and doing a lot of things. I often use this line, ‘I’m brilliant because I know I’m not; I learn from those who are. And I echo what they said.’ And if there was ever anybody that was applicable to, it was Jerry West.”

[First Take]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.