Picture the number ten. Just your average, run of the mill number, no different from the other infinite amounts of combinations that can be put together to create a number. Now take this ten, and put six zeroes behind it. And now we’ve got something a bit different, a number that raises attention, that garners a few head turns, and while ten is one of our staple numbers in everyday life, one that we use to round to and for our general incremental increases, a million of them is no comparison to the staple, and far from something that we would call general.
$10,000,000 is the amount that ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith will be bringing in annually beginning next year, the company announced just days after Smith made an appearance at Seton Hall’s biannual Sports Symposium. The symposium, an event put together by professional-in-residence BJ Schecter and former NBPA executive Charles Grantham, featured a number a prominent names in the sporting industry and displayed a range of panels including discussion on betting and gambling, amateurism, and the changing industry that is sports media. NBA commissioner Adam Silver, ESPN pioneer Bob Ley, NFL journeyman Russell Okung, and WNBA rep Terri Jackson were among panelists, and Seton Hall faculty, students, and employees alike turned out in droves, eager to see, and gain knowledge from some of the biggest names in the industry.
The event began at 12:00 PM sharp with opening remarks from Schecter before a one on one conversation with commissioner Silver. Heading the conversation with Silver was none other than Grantham, who was able orchestrated Silver’s appearance after working with previous NBA commissioner David Stern for over 30 years. Grantham was not shy or hesitant in asking Silver hard-hitters as far as questions were concerned, and inquiries included questions on Silver’s plans for the future, the G-League and E-Sports, gambling and even lowering the age with which players can enter the draft (which Silver admitted to considering very seriously) before the busy Silver departed. The number of spectators in attendance began to deplete as well with his departure, which was around 1:30. That number stayed about the same until about 3:30, which was the time scheduled for Smith and Bob Ley’s conversation with Schecter.
There are some personalities that just have the ability to control the room, and the never-dry, always charismatic, brash and bold Smith has one of them. He was the star of the show as soon as he entered the room. So many were eager to see ESPN’s top breadwinner for themselves, the star of their flagship morning show First Take who, while known for candid outbursts and countless catchphrases, and for a highlight reel that can make you laugh for days, has been consistent as the most recognizable figure at the company for years. As Smith said though, there’s a reason for this, and he deserves every penny he will be getting in his newly agreed upon contract. Here’s a clip of one his funniest moments:
I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen A Smith, and for all we see on television in the form of an eccentric personality and confidence of a megastar, I saw a humbled hard-worker who had grinded his way up to the top of sports media’s totem pole, respected those who came before him, and never forgot about his roots.
“I didn’t bust my tail all these year to get nothing” Smith said at the symposium. “Those who are great get more than those who are not, but I know the work I put in.” He had over 250 publications in authentication according to Bob Ley before graduating at Winston-Salem State University, and balanced both basketball and the university’s newspaper in college. A guard on the basketball team, Smith was coached by hall of famer Clarence Gaines, who he credits to instilling the work ethic and ability to deal with adversity that he possesses to this day, citing Gaines as an irreplaceable mentor in his life. After Winston-Salem, Smith went on the work for the Philadelphia Inquirer, before moving to Fox Sports and eventually to Bristol at ESPN, crediting that same drive and work ethic he had in his playing days to allowing him to move up.
“Nothing is handed to you in this world. You have to go out and get yours at all costs, and that’s what hurts people is when they’re looking for a free handout”, he told me. That same approach has propelled Smith to ESPN’s highest-paid employee. When asked about his deservedness of his salary, and potential naysayers on his worthiness of it at the symposium, he said, “you don’t generate the revenue I do. You don’t generate the ratings that I generate. You ain’t as popular as me. You don’t resonate as much as me. And you don’t deserve as much as I get.”
This is a response we as a viewing audience would expect from Smith, who has made it more than clear throughout his years on television and the radio that he could care less what his doubters think. It’s a confidence though, and mindset that has gotten him as far as he is now. Above all though, what I took away from the interview with Stephen A Smith was that the precedent that makes up the foundation of the American dream: hard work and dedication for success is alive and well, and is what can drive aspiring journalists like myself to the top. As he was quoted in a recent Complex article, “For the Jay-Z’s, Lebrons, Shaqs…they’re the American fantasy, you got a billion in one shot if not more to be them, but you can be Stephen A. Smith.”
Justin Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Justin_JM12.