Stephen A. Smith is ESPN's highest-paid personality. He is decidedly not for everybody and prone to provoke from time to time. We certainly have more than our fair share of fun with him on The Big Lead for the simple reason that he is a bottomless reservoir of content and drives traffic on third-party websites as reliably as he draws eyeballs for his own employer.
But no matter what you think of Smith, his ability to chew up airtime with premium takes is currently unrivaled. It seems as though he's singlehandedly providing 30 hours of himself to the masses on any given week. A feat made even more impressive when one observes that he never mails anything in.
It's natural to grow accustom to his ubiquitousness. It no longer feels weird to see him firing off machine-gun commentary in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and late-night. The S in ESPN may as well stand for Stephen at this point.
It's a tremendous space to inhabit at the top of the sports media food chain and yet it bears repeating just how hungry SAS is to stay there. Behind the thin layer of kayfabe and hyperbole is someone straight-up working his ass off in a fashion that we may never see again on television.
Ask yourself who his successor will be when the time comes. And if that person will be capable of being summoned to give Grade A screen time at literally any hour of the day on command. Smith may not be just one-of-one right now. He may be the last star of this caliber to roll off the assembly line as the industry changes.
I was struck by this thought watching his postgame commentary from Phoenix on Scott Van Pelt's SportsCenter last night.
Apologies for stating the obvious but Smith is just so damn good at his job. And he knows precisely what his job requires, which is to occasionally get the masses all riled up and engaged. But his dispatch from the Los Angeles Clippers' Game 5 victory revealed another special skill that he has as a reporter.
He nails the summary and breakdown with efficiency and energy. You can feel him drawing on decades of covering games and distilling them in rapid fashion between drifting into the personal reflections. After midnight. Fourteen hours after First Take started. Less than an hour before doing the same thing on the overnight SportsCenter.
Could anyone else do this? Maybe. No one else is doing this now — at this level, with this portfolio, across this variety of shows. It really is incredible to rediscover a new Smith skill this late in the viewing ballgame. Yet here we are. It also seems bizarre to suggest he should do more of anything when he does all of everything but ESPN should use him on-site as much as possible. It's tremendous television and a vital part of SC, which has established itself as one of the only postgame shows worth its real estate.