Stephen A. Smith discussing Rick Carlisle and the Indiana Pacers on First Take. Screen grab: ‘First Take’

While Stephen A. Smith disagrees with Rick Carlisle’s suggestion that big-market NBA teams get more favorable whistles than their small-market counterparts, that doesn’t mean the ESPN personality doesn’t wish it were true.

On Thursday, the First Take panel discussed Carlisle’s comments, which came after the New York Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 130-121 to take a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And while Smith said that Carlisle has every right to defend his team from an officiating standpoint, he took issue with the head coach bringing the two teams’ market sizes into it.

“I’ve known Rick Carlisle for decades,” Smith said. “Love him to death. He can miss me with that. We ain’t trying to hear that. He lost me when he talked about the small market teams. Just complain about the calls. Don’t bring up the small markets. OKC’s a small market, Minnesota’s a small market.”

“If you’re speaking about the lack of calls and you want to point out all of these missed calls by the officials, there’s no problem with that whatsoever. Rick Carlisle is absolutely right in terms of bringing that up because he wants to have an influence on Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and potentially 7. We get that part. We understand that.

“But to bring up small markets to make his case, nah. We ain’t trying to hear all of that. That’s not what the NBA is all about.

Smith went on to admit that if there was anyone wishing for the league to favor its big-market teams, it’s him.

“I wish they were about the big market. How many years I been complaining about New York?” Smith said. “Do you know anybody that roots for LA more than me? We know where I want to be in June. We know how disgusted I am with the Clippers and the Lakers with their sorry ass selves. We know where I want to be in June. And I can’t be here for them, because they’re home already. Or in Cancun or wherever the hell they are.

“…We love the big markets, that’s true. We’ve been complaining about the big markets and how a lot of them haven’t done anything. That matters. So I don’t want to hear that from Rick Carlisle. Not the small-market argument. Everything else he said, valid points.”

To Smith’s point, there are several examples of NBA teams finding success despite their market-sizes. In addition to the Western Conference Finals shaping up to be a matchup between the Thunder and the Timberwolves, two of the NBA’s last three championships were won by teams located in Denver and Milwaukee.

That’s not to say that Indiana hasn’t been on the wrong end of some calls against the Knicks. But it’s also worth noting that the first two games of the series have been played in New York and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Pacers get more favorable whistles as they host Games 3 and 4.

Accusing the NBA of favoring teams based on where they play isn’t exactly the same as saying games are being fixed — but it’s not far off either. As Smith noted, Carlisle is likely just doing what he can to put the officiating in the spotlight, even if it means relying on a fallacy to do so.

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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.