by Maurice Bobb / @ReeseReport
A few minutes into the break between NBA TNT’s doubleheader of Lakers at Celtics and Bulls at Nuggets, Kenny Smith, 47, the former Houston Rockets point guard and current analyst for the network’s highest-rated show, Inside the NBA, known for being one of the best on-air personalities in the game and a tireless ambassador for all things basketball, hops on the phone with SLAM to do what he does best: talk hoops.
On the dais for your consideration is TNT’s extensive live NBA All-Star coverage that will feature the guys that flank the Jet on a nightly basis on the Emmy Award-winning show: Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. This is the network’s 11th consecutive year bringing fans all of the marquee events live and direct from the NBA’s premier star-studded weekend, this year from Houston, the city that catapulted the Jamaica, Queens native into basketball lore, after his Game 1 performance in the 1995 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic, where he made 7 three-pointers to help Houston win in overtime on the way to their second straight NBA title.
Kenny’s championship memories are alive and well when he thinks of going back to Clutch City, where he’ll act as the mayor emeritus of sorts, welcoming all of his NBA brethren and the celebrity glitterati to “his city” for All-Star Weekend. “It’s a basketball celebration, a celebration of former, present and future players,” he said. “It’s like all the trading cards are walking around in one city.” Kenny will be all-in, involved with copious amounts of events like celebrity golf tournaments and his annual Friday night party with Gentleman Jack at an undisclosed location and, of course, the 17-plus hours of NBA action TNT will broadcast live, including the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, in which he serves as the Commish, with Team Shaq and Team Chuck facing off. Get ready, Houston, it’s about to go down Kenny “the Jet” Smith style.
SLAM: The first half of the season—what are some things that stick out? Who are your players to watch?
Kenny Smith: There are a lot of teams that are getting better as the season goes along. Chicago and Denver. Gotta like that there’s teams that are getting better. I think overall, there are more teams instead of individuals this year. When you say ‘Who’s having a great season?’ you got to say more ‘this team is’ now more than you would say ‘this guy’ with the exception of Kevin Durant and LeBron. Those two guys are having exceptional seasons. But we get a lot of ‘this team is doing great.’ Look at the All-Star Game, you know, for every guy that made it, other than those two guys, there’s someone else on their team that you could say had a case to make All-Star. Golden State, Chicago for Boozer, you got a case. And some weren’t even the best on their teams at times.
SLAM: What do you think of the new point guard renaissance in the NBA?
KS: The point guard position, no matter if you’re playing a bad team, you gotta come ready to play. If you play the center position, you can say ‘OK ,I’m just better than this guy.’ But that point guard position is not like that. You playing against a 16-35 team, you playing against Kyrie Irving. You play against a 14-35 team, you playing against John Wall. You play against good players every night at that position.
SLAM: You played PG. How are points different now than when you played?
KS: I think they’re better players individually now. I think the only thing that made our generation better was we were more skilled. I think in the era that I played in, we made better decisions as point guards. Consistently across the board we were better at that position.
SLAM: Why is that?
KS: You can probably point to multiple things, but I think it’s because it was an older league and you couldn’t come in as a young player and look inexperienced.
SLAM: Big changes are coming: David Stern is leaving the game and Adam Silver is in. How do you think the League fares moving forward?
KS: I think the blueprint is already there. I think Adam Silver had a lot to do with everything, you know, behind the scenes. He was a big part of the consultation and the thought process for David Stern already, so I don’t think he’s gonna miss a beat. And I think his useful energy will take it other places. Without question the League is in good hands.
SLAM: What players get your midseason awards? MVP? DPOY? ROY? MIP? Sixth Man?
KS: Oh, OK. We going deep, ain’t we? MVP? Kevin Durant right now edging out LeBron. DPOY? I think it’s won in the second half of the season when the games count. So that’s a tough one right now. ROY? Damian Lillard. MIP? Tim Duncan. Last year he was just OK and he’s improved to me the most.
SLAM: So you don’t buy into the idea that you can’t be a star and then get the MIP award?
KS: I don’t believe in that. Steve Nash, the year he won the MVP, was the most improved player as well. Because he had been in the League eight years as just a good player and then he was the most improved player. Sixth Man? I’ma go with Jamal Crawford.
SLAM: You think KD will pass LeBron as the best player on the planet? And if so, when?
KS: I thought he would by now honestly. I said that three years ago. I think I said three years ago that in three years he’s gonna be the best player on the planet. You can look it up on YouTube. Charles and Chris Webber killed me. And I was like ‘OK, but watch.’ And now he’s the second best player. They were saying, ‘Are you kiddin’ me? He’s not gonna be the fifth or sixth best player.’ OK, now he’s number two. He’s not number one, but he’s got an opportunity to be close to that.
SLAM: Who is your sleeper team that’ll make noise in the Playoffs?
KS: The Denver Nuggets is always a team that’s like a maybe, with their effort and energy.
SLAM: The All-Star Game is in Houston. What does that mean to you?
KS: A lot of fun. I have a lot of events to go to and do. My annual events that I normally do. On that Friday night, I have my staple Friday Night event. I see all my friends there. I got some great partners that came onboard with me: Sprint, VisiKard. I’m excited.
SLAM: Between all of the TNT coverage and your events, are you gonna get any sleep?
KS: Zero. None. 5-Hour Energy will be my friend.
SLAM: The Slam Dunk Contest has been weak as of late. You were in the dunk contest three times, even made the final against ‘Nique. Can the League get people excited about dunk contest again?
KS: I think this is gonna be one of the Top 10 dunk contests of all time. These guys are not known, but it’s kinda like if you told me to go find the Top 10 Dunkers in the world, I could get 10 guys you never heard of, but it would probably be the best dunk contest you’ve ever seen. These guys fall in that category.
SLAM: So you think they found the right contestants this time?
KS: I don’t think they found the right guys, I think it’s cyclical and this is a cycle where it’s on the upswing. These guys jump out the gym and they’ve been in dunk contests before, maybe not at this level, all of them, but they’ve been in them and they don’t need any props.
SLAM: So tell me what we can expect from your coverage of ASW?
KS: We got Charles he’s turning 50, so we got a big show on that. Just the normal things and just like what this weekend’s all about and insight. And we’re gonna continue to bring that.
SLAM: Why does the show work so well?
KS: We respect each other for who we are. We don’t try to put anybody in a box. We all try to create a box. It’s not ‘you talk then I talk,’ we have a conversation, just like we’re watching a game on the couch.
SLAM: You enjoy playing the straight guy next to Chuck?
KS: The funny thing is, before he got here, I was not the straight guy. I was a little loose and a little wild. But then he comes and put the kerosene on the fire. Ernie and I was kinda doing it and then all of a sudden, when Chuck came it exploded and I became the so-called straight guy.
SLAM: You ever going to convince Chuck to get on Twitter?
KS: He’s anti-Twitter right now.
SLAM: Team Shaq or Team Chuck?
KS: Team Shaq. With Kyrie and Lillard, they could get 30 apiece if they wanted to. This is gonna be a big loss for Chuck. And afterward, he’s gonna hear about it a lot.
SLAM: You’re a Houston guy. Where should people make sure they go in between the action?
KS: I’ll give you a break down. During the mornings, go to a breakfast place. As simple as it sounds, IHOP is a good breakfast place because it’s gonna be quick, fast and easy. Then you’re gonna have to hit Pappadeaux one time. You gotta hit Pappadeaux and you have to hit Carrabba’s. My man Johnny Carrabba’s always got it poppin’ in there. You gonna have to hit the Galleria Mall. You gotta hit that to get your gear right. You’re gonna have to hit Kenny Smith’s Friday night event. That’s invite-only. You gotta figure out a way to get in. You gotta figure out a way to get in (laughs). If you’re a girl, make sure you go get a babysitter, go get your hair done, go to Galleria to get the dress. You have to go. Saturday night you gotta go to the Bayou Center, it’s gonna be popping. That’s a must. You gotta go get the throwback Houston Astros and Houston Rockets hats. Fitted. Don’t go with the snap-backs on these. You gotta go with the old school ones.
SLAM: Anything you’d like to add before you rush off to talk Bulls vs Nuggets?
KS: I’m good…just make sure you get an invitation from my guy for a my party Friday night.