Stephen A. Smith on First Take Photo credit: ESPN

Stephen A. Smith doesn’t fault LeBron James and JJ Redick teaming up for their podcast, but he claims Black NBA coaches did.

James and Redick launched their basketball-centric Mind the Game podcast in March, providing fans an opportunity to view basketball through the lens of two high-IQ players. Last week, Smith questioned the timing of the podcast because it launched while Darvin Ham was on the hot seat for the Los Angeles Lakers, calling it a “very egregious thing to do.” Monday morning, Smith revealed that it was other NBA coaches who were upset with the timing of the podcast first.

“Numerous coaches, Black coaches, called me expressing how they took issue with that podcast taking place. And I think you know enough to know that that’s true. Some of them felt very salty about that,” Smith told Jay Williams.  “We certainly are not blaming JJ Redick.”

The report prompted Molly Qerim to question whether those coaches who contacted Smith were “salty” about the show because LeBron “chose to do a podcast with a white guy or because it hurt Darvin Ham?”

Smith confirmed the coaches were bothered by the podcast because of what it did to Ham, who is Black. The sentiment implies Black NBA coaches felt LeBron was undermining his head coach. Not long ago, less than 10 percent of NBA head coaches were Black, despite more than 80 percent of the league’s players being Black. Last season, however, the league had more Black head coaches than white for the first time ever.

Smith went on to reiterate he wasn’t faulting Redick for joining LeBron’s podcast venture, noting anyone would jump at that opportunity.

“In fairness to LeBron James, when the news came out – hell, we celebrated it right here on the show,” Smith said, noting everyone on First Take was excited about the podcast and the prospect of listening to LeBron and Redick break down basketball. “But as the podcast gained steam and then the spotlight became more magnified for Darvin Ham and then you saw Anthony Davis after Game 2 against Denver talk about how…‘we just weren’t on the same page, we just seemed to be out of sync.’ We saw all these things.”

“You take all those things into account, this does not look good,” Smith continued. “And what I was saying on the air last week was, you couldn’t have started it in the playoffs? You couldn’t have started it after Darvin Ham lost the job? Did you have to start it in the middle of the damn season when he’s on the hot seat? Because why? That’s what some of the coaches were saying.”

If LeBron wanted to get the Lakers to fire Ham and give Redick a head coaching interview, he holds enough clout with the franchise to just express those desires. The idea that he needed a create a podcast to undermine Ham seems like we might be trying to connect too many dots.

“I’m not saying he orchestrated something to push Darvin Ham out the door to get JJ Redick the job,” Smith insisted. “That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not going there. What I’m saying is you are a person known for being mindful and cognizant of the optics, how could you possibly think that was going to look good?”

Should LeBron care about the optics that Smith is presenting? He’s used to being labeled a coach killer and this latest accusation hasn’t hurt the podcast’s success or popularity. Maybe this would have been a bigger deal if LeBron and Redick were questioning Ham’s coaching decisions every week, but that’s not what the podcast is or was.

[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