The only rivalry bigger than the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat during the NBA playoffs is the hot-take struggle between Stephen A. Smith and JJ Redick on the set of First Take.
Redick, who played more than a decade in the NBA, has become a rising talent at ESPN, with his candid basketball opinions backed largely by a reliance on competitive experience and analytics to break down games and issues in the league.
The former Duke star and NBA lottery pick has been cast as sort of a nemesis to Smith, whose grandiose personality has turned the longtime newspaper columnist into the face and voice of the network.
On Tuesday, the two repeatedly exchanged shade during a discussion about the Western Conference Finals series between the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers.
Redick accused Smith of not listening to his points about the state of the Lakers and the potential retirement of LeBron James.
“l listened to every word J.J. said. I don’t understand much of what he (Redick) just said, but I listened,” snapped Smith.
Redick, with a dismissive look on his face, pulled the “you never played the game” card.
“You didn’t play,” said Redick. “You don’t understand athletic mortality. “Three games at South Dakota … Winston-Salem State doesn’t count.”
Smith, who did play basketball at Winston-Salem State under the legendary Clarence “Big House” Gaines, took the cheap shot in stride.
“I got a degree, and I’m on TV with you,” he said. “I must be doing something right.”
In the immediate aftermath of Redick’s comment about WSSU, ardent supporters of HBCUs came to Smith’s defense.
Redick may have tried to come for Stephen A. by discounting his basketball resume, but Winston-Salem State isn’t an also-ran program. Gaines won 828 games as Rams coach and produced NBA players Cleo Hill and Earl “The Pearl Monroe.”
While WSSU isn’t Duke, the basketball program does count in college basketball relevancy.
Redick then apologized for getting out of pocket about Winston-Salem State.