Kenny “The Jet” Smith has earned a reputation as one of the most highly-regarded analysts in sports today. After playing 10 seasons in the NBA, in 1998, the two-time NBA champion with the Houston Rockets became a basketball commentator for the Emmy Award-winning Inside the NBA on TNT. Along with co-hosts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ernie Johnson, the Emmy-winning show has been one of the most popular sports shows on television for more than two decades. Also, he works as an analyst for CBS/Turner covering the NCAA Division I Men's basketball tournament and the Final Four.
For his latest project, Smith is set to release his new book Talk of Champions: Stories of the People Who Made Me: A Memoir which is currently available for pre-order before its official release on May 9. Throughout the book, Smith shares never-before-heard stories of his playing days and his broadcasting career while paying tribute to the teammates, star players, coaches, and mentors that gave him inspiration on his remarkable journey.
BET.com spoke with Smith about the success of Inside the NBA, his picks for the NBA Finals, and his new book.
BET.com. After a successful NBA career, you began working with Inside the NBA where you still remain today. Did you always want to be a sports analyst?
Kenny Smith: Being an analyst was not something that was on my career path. Initially, I would come on TNT when they brought on current players or players after they lost in the playoffs to do segments. I was one of those guys that they would ask to do that. As a parting gift, they said, “If you really want to do this, we think you would be pretty good at it. Michael Jackson, one of the show’s executives not the singer [Laughs], who actually played at Georgetown with Patrick Ewing and he was a teammate of mine, told me, “Hey, if you really want to do this, you could do it.” I got the call and I made a decision to go forth with it.
BET.com: What was one of the moments when you knew that Inside the NBA was a special show?
Smith: I knew the show was special when I would be on the show and there would be laughter from the crew members. Or, I would come off the set and they would say, “Man, I never looked at the game that way before.” I thought that was pretty normal until someone said that never happens on TV. You never hear the cameraman laugh or hear the crew make comments. That’s when I knew that we had something that was engaging the fans.
We started to make the crew, like Underdog (Joe Underhill) became a part of the show. It became like a late-night show where everybody participated. When we did that, I thought that we changed the dynamic of sports TV.
BET.com: Without question, Inside the NBA team is legendary. Give us one word to describe yourself, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Charles Barkley.
Smith: Ernie; Professional. Charles; Outrageous. Shaq; Enthusiastic. Kenny; Passionate.
BET.com: Outside of being an analyst, your name always comes up when there are coaching and front-office openings in the NBA. Is that something that you would pursue in the future?
I just think that if it's basketball, it's me. Because of what I do on a daily basis and who I interact with, I get a lot of calls from owners and from presidents of teams, just for my opinion. They ask me questions like, “We know you have a relationship with this agent, what do you think of this player?” So what I’ve been able to do over the last 20-something years is look at all teams and all the trends. If you're the Clippers, you're only looking at what you do and you're in that box. So that allows me to kind of have a different point of view that most people don't have.
BET.com: Your book Talk of Champions is set to be released in May. What inspired you to write it?
Smith: It started with George Floyd. I've always been asked to write a book but I always thought I could write a good article, not a book. But when that moment happened and I walked off the set, a week later, I got a call from a literary agent who said, “You could write a book.” I was like, “Why do you say that?” He was like, “Because when you walked off the set.” He said, “Why did you walk off? What are all the incidents in your life, from sports, social issues, and economics?” I was like, “ I got it.” It wasn't just basketball. It wasn't just growing up in New York City. It wasn't just going to the University of North Carolina, It was all of these stories that made me do it and that’s how I came up with the premise.
BET.com: Throughout your career, you’ve had so many different experiences to draw in writing the book. What can readers expect from Talk of Champions?
Smith: It's a tell-all book. It’s about all the great things I've learned from all the great people that I had the privilege to know. If I knew all this information at 25, I couldn’t tell you where my life would be now. It’s not just through the lens of sports but in business as well. Each chapter is named after a specific person. So there's a Michael Jordan chapter, a Dean Smith chapter and there’s a David Kohler chapter who was my roommate in college and is now the CEO of Kohler and a multi-billionaire. I think readers will be inspired by the book and my journey.
BET.com: How long did it take you to write the book?
Smith: Each chapter would take me about a month to write it so it took about nine months to finish. I wanted to write it myself. I didn't want to have someone sit with me, take my notes, and put it together. I wanted to compile it myself. If I open up my phone and all my notes on the book are right here. It’s not edited correctly [Laughs], but it’s all right here.
BET.com: Currently, we're in the middle of the NBA playoffs and it’s one of the most unpredictable playoffs that we’ve seen in recent years. What is one thing you love about the NBA and one thing you wish you saw more in today’s game?
Smith: One thing I love now is the parity. No one is sure who's going to win the championship. But when I was coming up the league, there were only four teams every year who were going to win the championship. It was gonna be the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, or the Bulls. You knew from the beginning of the season what was gonna happen so I do love the parity in the game today. What I miss is probably players staying on one team. I use to follow teams but now I follow players. So I miss that.
BET.com: Lastly, who do you think will face off in the NBA Finals?
Smith: I love Boston. I think Boston and Philadelphia are the best two teams in the East. In the West, I think this will be the first time that Denver will break through and get to the Finals.
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