/Stephen A. Smith recalls Skip Bayless begging him to join ‘First Take’

Stephen A. Smith recalls Skip Bayless begging him to join ‘First Take’

Stephen A. Smith reminisced on the time Skip Bayless begged him to form the daily duo that eventually became “First Take.”

Smith appeared on “The Old man and the Three,” podcast hosted by JJ Redick and Tommy Alter, and discussed the formation of “First Take” on ESPN.

“Skip Bayless was doing his thing with ‘First Take,’ having the 2 Live Stews [Ryan and Doug Stewart], Jemele Hill, Rob Parker and various other people debating against him,” Smith said. “And then in 2012, they weren’t satisfied with the numbers — the ratings and the amount of revenue that was being generated.”

As Smith alluded to, “First Take” began as a segment within ESPN2’s morning show, “Cold Pizza.” It was originally Bayless pitted against an assortment of guests. Smith clearly resonated with viewers significantly above the others, and with Bayless himself.

Stephen A. Smith recalls Skip Bayless begging him to join "First Take" as permanent co-host in 2012.
Stephen A. Smith recalls Skip Bayless begging him to join “First Take” as permanent co-host in 2012.

“Skip Bayless comes to me in the parking lot of ESPN’s campus in Bristol, Connecticut, and 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 to take this as far as it can go. I need you, please. Just give me three years. I think we’ll knock it out of the park,’” Smith said.

“I thought about it. Those were clearly my best options. They weren’t about to give me my own show or anything like that at the time. I thought about it for a couple days and said I’d do it. One month later, we were No. 1, and we’ve been No. 1 ever since.”

Today, Smith, Scott Van Pelt and Mike Greenberg are the three biggest faces at ESPN and there’s a very strong case to be made that Smith is at the top. So it can be strange to think about his mindset of a decade ago, when that was actually not the case.

People do not reflexively remember that at one point ESPN actually discarded Stephen A.

His show, “Quite Frankly,” got canceled in 2007. In 2009, ESPN offered him a contract lower than what he believed he was worth, and the two parted ways.

For a couple years, Smith hosted mornings on Fox Sports Radio — it was there that he successfully prognosticated, before “The Decision,” that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would team up on the Miami Heat.

It was not just Bayless who pushed hard for Smith to join “First Take” permanently, it was also the program’s former producer Jamie Horowitz.

Bayless left ESPN for a lucrative offer to join Horowitz at FS1 in 2016 and was replaced on “First Take” by Max Kellerman. Last year, Smith successfully pushed for Kellerman to be replaced by a rotating group of hosts.