The two most notable names in the world of basketball broadcasting right now (who aren't former players) are easily Stephen A. Smith on ESPN and Skip Bayless on FOX. The two analysts are the hosts of the most popular shows in sports broadcasting, and their names hold a lot of value from an entertainment perspective.
What younger NBA Fans forget is that 'First Take' was created for this dynamic between Smith and Bayless. Their personalities were always clashing on TV and that made for some incredibly fun TV to watch. Whether their basketball takes were accurate is one thing, but nobody can deny the entertainment value.
Stephen A. Smith went on to the podcast of a new co-worker at ESPN, JJ Redick, and opened up on his decades-long relationship with Bayless and how they look at each other in 2022.
Stephen A. started by telling the story of how Bayless and he first had the idea of being together on TV. With FOX pressure coming down on Bayless in the early naughties, he went to Stephen A., who wasn't as high-profile as he is now, to make a show with him.
"Skip Bayless comes to me in a parking lot. He says, 'I know you've got your plans, you love the NBA, you love being out on the road, you love being in the locker room. But I need you. I've done all that I could do to take this as far as I could go, I need you to do this for me, please.'"
"We always had the chemistry. Skip and I used to work at Fox together. ... They did a pilot with Skip and I because Skip and I used to debate all the time and we never agreed on anything."
While the opportunity at FOX never ended up materializing as an actual show, many years later, when the pair were both at ESPN, they realized they could probably finish off that idea now at ESPN. Bayless allegedly had to lobby Smith to get him on board, playing the sentimental card by reminding him how it ended 12 years ago at FOX.
"When the opportunity finally came, and he approached me in that parking lot, that was what he brought up. 'This is unfinished business. We were supposed to do this 12 years ago, but here we are again and this is our opportunity. Stephen A., I need you to do this for me.'"
However, it hasn't always been smooth-sailing for the two personalities. While they had great chemistry on the show together, their relationship was more business than personal, something Stephen A. realized after he heard about Bayless leaving ESPN through office rumors instead of the man himself. According to Smith, that was the only time something discordant had come up between the pair.
"Never. The only time anything came close to that was when I knew he was leaving before he told me, so I confronted him. ... When he confessed to me what had transpired between his negotiations with the company, I understood why he couldn't tell me in the immediate moment."
This is a very deep professional relationship. Considering the tenure that both men have as analysts, Bayless in particular, they have seen many aspiring reporters and analysts come and go. Not only have these two stuck at the very top of the media hierarchy, but they also got a chance to do it together.
Their individual personas are absolutely massive now, so getting them together on a show again will be nigh impossible. Despite that, we can hope that eventually, one will appear as a guest on the other's show.