A few months ago, former NBA players Kendrick Perkins and J.J. Redick got into a heated debate on ESPN’s “First Take” over whether the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic should’ve been the NBA’s regular season MVP. During that debate, the issue of race came up.
Stephen A. Smith, the main personality on the show, went on “The Bill Simmons Podcast” to discuss the dispute, and he said it went too far.
“First of all, it can too far,” Smith admitted. “Secondly, in that particular show, it did go too far. I thought both of them were wrong to a degree, in terms of how far it went.
“Everybody I’ve brought on the show, this is what I demand from them. Be your true authentic self. Don’t come on here with no phony s—. Don’t have me, or our audience looking at you and thinking you’re faking something or you’re saying something for just effect. You need to feel it. Here’s where it gets tricky though, what happens is sometimes in the heat of a debate you’re saying something and then you catch yourself and you’re like, ‘Oh s—, what did I just say?’”
On another episode of “First Take,” Perkins had said that the journalists that vote for the MVP award are supposedly racially biased against Black players, and when he debated who should’ve won the award with Redick later, the two got into an intense argument over race.
For his part, Smith, who, along with Perkins, is Black, downplayed Perkins’ accusation.
“What I didn’t know was the fury, at least it appeared to be fury to me, that JJ Redick was feeling over the subject,” Smith told Simmons. “When he came on, on one hand, I understood how or why he felt the way he felt because of what Perk had said. On the other hand, I was saying to JJ, ‘This is your colleague on the show. If you feel that way, did you have to come at him like that?’ Because it did get uncomfortable.”
Race has always been a nagging issue in the NBA, a league that has been predominantly African-American for many decades. There has been a lingering perception that fans and journalists have been hungry for a white superstar, to the point where they allegedly prop up white players and make them seem bigger than they are.
But Jokic, a white Serbian center who missed out on winning what would’ve been his third straight league MVP this past season, is the real deal, and no one needs to give him a boost.
He averaged 24.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.8 assists a game during the regular season while leading the Nuggets to the best record in the Western Conference, but the best was yet to come. He upped his game in the playoffs and powered his team to its first-ever NBA championship while winning Finals MVP honors.
Jokic is now getting his full due, and some even feel he has a shot at ending up as an all-time great, especially if he tacks on a couple more world titles. Many people certainly feel the Nuggets are capable of winning it all at least once more in the coming seasons.