Stephen A. Smith The Stephen A. Smith Show Screen grab: The Stephen A. Smith Show

It started innocently enough. Stephen A. Smith was taking calls on his podcast, The Stephen A. Smith Show, when an apparent prankster tried to catch him off guard with a take on the movie Cars.

“When you think about the GOAT (greatest of all time) of sports, you think about [Michael Jordan] with six [rings], [Tom] Brady with seven rings. But where do you rank a guy like Lightning McQueen with seven Piston Cups,” the caller, allegedly named Danny in Wisconsin, asked Smith.

Only Smith was prepared.

“I would tell you he wouldn’t be the GOAT. How are you going to be the GOAT — because you’re talking about the movie Cars, right?” Smith replied, before launching into a First Take-style response. “When you talk about Strip Weathers and Lightning McQueen, they’re both tied with seven Piston Cups. Strip Weathers — you forgot about him? How can you be the GOAT when you’ve got somebody that’s tied with you? You’ve got somebody that’s tied with you. That ain’t gonna work. Sorry, I know you tried to catch me with that. You didn’t think I knew that, you didn’t think I knew about Cars, did you? You slept on a brother.

“Strip Weathers has seven Piston Cups. I am not about to sit here and argue with a grown a** man about about the movie Cars.”


Here was Smith — a man best known for his sports arguments — injecting the same amount of passion into a take on a children’s movie that he would debate about the NFL’s best quarterback. The clip is objectively funny and was covered as such, with several websites (including this one) writing about it.

At the time, the clip appeared to be nothing more than a funny moment in which a crank caller attempted to slide one past Smith, only to have the tables turned on him. A harmless but hilarious interaction worthy of viral treatment.

Nearly three months later, I’m not so certain.

In recent weeks, it’s been impossible not to notice Smith making a habit of going back to the same strategy of offering passionate opinions on obscure pop culture subjects. Perhaps the greatest example was in late January, when the First Take star took a strong stance regarding who would win a battle between Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle — yes, the Pokémon.

“You know what I’m gonna say? Shamander,” Smith said in apparent reference to Charmander. “That’s who I would take. Because it reminds me of me because of the forehead.”

This might not have been the same play as his Cars rant, but it might as well have been from the same playbook. Clearly, there’s something funny about Smith — one of the great orators of our time — weighing in on non-serious subjects.

Just like the Cars take, Smith’s Pokémon preference went viral (and yes, was covered here). In recent weeks, Smith has also opined on grilled cheese vs. PB&J, Julius Caesar’s place on the all-time generals list, and whether he’d rather fight 100 mouse-sized Shannon Sharpes or one Shannon Sharpe-sized mouse.

Admittedly, my first take (no pun intended) was to express cynicism about Smith recycling different versions of the same bit. But the more I thought about it, the method to Smith’s madness became clear.

While some people (and definitely not me) may have thought the Cars caller was a plant, Smith isn’t pretending to be an expert on the Roman Empire or Pokémon. In some cases he’s just riffing, while in others, he’s admitting to doing his research. Either way, such segments add a lighthearted and interactive component to The Stephen A. Smith Show, Smith’s daily Audacy podcast that he operates independently of ESPN.

On Monday’s episode, Smith discussed the Super Bowl, interviewed Louis Riddick, and addressed the Republican backlash to the Black National Anthem, before taking listener questions. Whether you listen to Smith for his takes on sports, politics, culture, or his humor, there’s something for everyone.

That’s not an accident.

With Smith’s contract at ESPN reportedly set to expire later this year, his podcast not only serves as a demo reel for what he’s capable of beyond sports but also a life raft for a potential post-Bristol life. And intentionally or not (you can take your guess), the viral nature of his question-and-answer segments only helps draw attention to his show, further strengthening its audience.

At this point, it’s no secret that Smith is already considering all of his options when it comes to his next contract. And while these clips might initially seem like a gimmick intended to attract cheap clicks, they also provide a deeper insight into Smith’s strategy for world domination, with or without ESPN.

[The Stephen A. Smith Show]

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.