For the 16th straight spring, ESPN/ABC will air the NBA Finals and this year, the worldwide leader apparently wanted to spice up its coverage with something a little different. So network decision-makers put their heads together and came up with a can’t-fail strategy: more Stephen A. Smith.ESPN announced Thursday that Smith will host a special SportsCenter from 7-8 p.m. ET before each weeknight NBA Finals game, while also taking on a recurring presence on the 6 p.m. SportsCenter show during the conference finals. Here’s how he explained the situation to FTW’s Nina Mandell:
Well, you know, the bosses led by Norby Williamson came to me and they came up with the idea they wanted me to host SportsCenter during the NBA Finals. They wanted me to do an NBA Finals SportsCenter special from 7 to 8 PM on the night of each game during the NBA Finals so obviously I jumped at the opportunity to do that. I’m ecstatic about it.Regardless of all the programming that ESPN has, let’s face reality, ESPN is what it is today because of the SportsCenter brand and when you have the opportunity to be on SportsCenter, it’s an honor. But to host it, it’s definitely an extreme honor and something I’m incredibly excited about and we all know how much I love the NBA, how synonymous to the NBA I am. So it’s all aligned. I could not have asked for a more perfect role for me, so I’m incredibly happy about it.
This announcement comes a year after ESPN used the same 7-8 p.m. time slot before NBA Finals games for First Take specials featuring Smith and Max Kellerman. The fact that this year’s shows will carry SportsCenter branding, even at a nontraditional SportsCenter hour, seems like yet another indication of how devoted ESPN is to restoring the SportsCenter brand.“Yes, I am synonymous with First Take. But none of my success at ESPN — absolutely nothing — would’ve been possible without SportsCenter,” Smith said in a release. “It is the SportsCenter brand that has made ESPN what we’ve become. To have my name up in lights as HOST during the NBA Finals is unreal. An incredible honor for me. And I plan on making the most of it.”Smith’s SportsCenter, which will be filmed on-site at the Finals, will lead into NBA Countdown, which will lead into ABC’s broadcast of the game.Smith, of course, has a long history of NBA coverage, dating back to his days as a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. That said, we can probably expect Smith’s SportsCenter to look less like a traditional NBA studio show and more like the type of debate show Smith has built his brand around in recent years. ESPN has not announced which other personalities will appear alongside Smith or what structure his show will take.