Stephen A. Smith revealed why he forced Max Kellerman off ESPN’s First Take in an interview on Hot 97 in September 2021. The sports television personality and journalist told radio hosts Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg, “Yes, I did [want him off the show].”
Smith went on to explain that it was never personal. Rather, it was a professional business decision.
“It wasn’t really about asking him to be off the show, it was about the fact that I knew that we, together, as far as I was concerned, was not a great partnership anymore, and that was something that needed to change,” he said.
“The reason why I’m unapologetic about my position, No. 1, is that it’s no knock against him professionally, his work ethic, and all of that other stuff, his talent. It’s not like I wanted the guy to be fired. I knew there were landing spots for him available at this network that would generate just as much, if not more revenue for him and all of that other stuff.
“We don’t have a bad relationship. I think he’s a real good guy. I appreciate what he did for the show. We were number one for five years. We stayed number one, and I appreciate that.”
Smith explained the importance of “keeping things fresh” on First Take and maintaining “chemistry.” Although Smith said things were cool between him and Kellerman, that doesn’t seem to be the case right now in 2023.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says he “didn’t like working with” Max Kellerman on First Take, reveals they haven’t spoken since Kellerman’s departure in September 2021
Since that interview, other details have emerged on ESPN making that change on the morning show. Two years later, the sports journalist is still telling his side of the story.
During a recent episode of “The Joe Budden Podcast,” Smith was asked what he would say to the viewers who say they saw the tension between him and Kellerman before his departure from the show.
“I heard some of it. I would take full responsibility for that. It was totally my fault and the reason it was my fault is because I didn’t like working with him. It’s just that damn simple. I didn’t like it. I thought the show was stale. I thought that we had flatlined when it came to the public at large. I didn’t want to go from No. 1 to No. 2. when Skip [Bayless] left. I wasn’t having that. That s—t wasn’t gonna happen.”
Go to the 2:04:01 mark in the YouTube video below for Smith’s latest interview.
“I had mad respect for him [Kellerman] from the standpoint of white dude, highly intelligent, Ivy League–educated from Columbia [University]. Smart as a whip. Can talk his ass off. Can talk about anything. I get all that. But you weren’t an athlete, and you weren’t a journalist. And the absence of the two components left people wondering, ‘Why should we listen to you?’
“O.K., well you might have had that figured out on SportsNation or you might have had figured it out on another show, but on this show, if you looked at the content emanating from the social stratosphere, meaning YouTube and other components used to measure, one is cache, Q ratings, focus groups, all of these different things.”
Stephen A. Smith didn’t feel higher ratings were possible with Kellerman, believes him and Max never worked well together
Did Stephen A. Smith feel like he was carrying the show alone? That appears to be true.
“It was like I was damn near doing the show by myself because we were oceans apart in terms of cache,” Smith mentioned. “Well, how are you oceans apart from me if you’re sitting across from me for five days a week for the whole two hours? Because one of us is resonating, and one of us is not in that platform.
“I was like, ‘Look, this is what it is.’ And we had a number of conversations, one-on-one many, many times. I know this audience, I know what they need, etc, etc. At some point, you’re gonna do what you need to do, or you don’t, and if you don’t do what you need to do, I’m gonna get somebody who will. That’s me. I made no qualms about it.
“I didn’t have the authority to let him go. So what I did was, I’ve been very consistent, very honest, there’s no personal. We weren’t enemies, to be real we haven’t spoken since, other than ‘hi and bye’ or if I had to go on the show when they were doing the morning show, I would get interviewed.
“But there’s been no conversations since. And that’s fine with me. That’s no problem because it wasn’t like we were boys or anything like that. But at the end of the day, it was all business to me. It was about, ‘Look, man, I’m trying to win and I don’t believe I can with you.’ That doesn’t mean it’s your fault. It means we don’t work.”
Did Smith make contradictory statements?
Additionally, it seems strange in the September 2021 radio interview that Stephen A. Smith said he didn’t have a bad relationship with Kellerman, and he thought he was a “real good guy.” Because afterwards, they stopped talking to each other as often as they did on First Take. Sure, they went their own separate ways.
However, Stephen A. Smith also said the two were never “buds.” Co-workers can be great friends, so Smith’s latest interview probably confused viewers. Maybe Smith deserves the benefit of the doubt. For a live debate show, chemistry between co-hosts is crucial. The ESPN reporter felt it just wasn’t there.
“It also wasn’t my decision,” Smith said in his original radio interview. “I gave my recommendation [to ESPN]. They ask it, I tell it. Every single year when the NBA season comes to an end, the bosses ask me where I stand. … And I also told Max that.”
Not to mention, differences on political issues may have been the tipping point.
In June 2023, Kellerman was fired by ESPN after serving as the host of This Just In with Max Kellerman and as co-host of Keyshawn, JWill and Max on ESPN Radio.
Now, NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, the former co-host of FS1’s Skip and Shannon: Undisputed, debates Stephen A. Smith twice weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays on First Take.
Furthermore, ex-ESPN sportscaster Rachel Nichols joined Skip Bayless on Undisputed, replacing Sharpe. She also joined former NFL cornerback Richard Sherman and rap star Lil Wayne as panelists on the show.