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Hang Time: Sekou Smith, successful NBA sports analyst, dishes on career

Hang Time: Sekou Smith, successful NBA sports analyst, dishes on career

By Rachel James-Terry
This interview was conducted prior to the passing of Sekou Smith earlier this year.

Sekou Smith is trapped in a bubble at Walt Disney World in Florida. It may sound strangely magical. But it’s routine for the senior analyst for NBA TV and NBA. com – a division of Warner Media and Turner Sports.

“The NBA had to figure out how to restart the (basketball) season after everything shut down in March(2020), explains Smith of the lockdown campus at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

In July 2020, teams were encapsulated in the NBA Bubble to finish out the regular season. The Los Angeles Lakers were crowned champions in October 2020, snatching the victory from the Miami Heat.

Sekou Smith, senior analyst for NBA.TV and NBA.com, reporting live from the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland in 2017. The JSU alum says he discovered his professional path while at the HBCU.

Smith has spent years traveling the country and the globe for a billion-dollar business with just as many fans. It’s a professional life that Smith never fathomed.

“Amongst my friends, I was always running my mouth about sports. I just had an interest in sports. I didn’t have any formal training. It was a hobby. I didn’t understand that this was something I could do for a living or career until I got to JSU,” says the class of ‘97 graduate.

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Smith was encouraged to attend JSU by his high school teacher Fred Montgomery. He subsequently enrolled in 1993. “He was a fabulous advocate for JSU. His kids went to Jackson State. His wife is a JSU grad. He’s also from the Delta.”

However, it wasn’t until Smith met the late Eric Stringfellow, adjunct professor at JSU, that he began to digest the full potential of sports journalism.

“I took an introduction to journalism class and heard him talk one day about his experiences as a newspaper man around the country,” explains Smith. “He brought in all these great speakers, and we would hear them tell stories about their careers and lives. Eric was the one who showed me how to take my passion for sports and sports journalism and put it into something concrete.” Aside from his parents, the analyst describes Stringfellow as one of the most influential adults in his life at that time. Up until this point, Smith says his understanding of journalism did not extend beyond delivering newspapers for his uncle Carl, who owned a local newspaper called “The Organizer.”

“Stringfellow had played football at JSU. He was a sharp cat, wore bowties, and drove a BMW,” Smith chuckles. “He was a charismatic individual as well. I enjoyed him and the knowledge he shared with us. He mentored us into the careers we have now.”

NBA Senior Analyst Sekou Smith sits down with James Harden formerly of the Houston Rockets. Harden has been called “the best shooting guard” in the NBA

NBA Senior Analyst Sekou Smith sits down with James Harden formerly of the Houston Rockets. Harden has been called “the best shooting guard” in the NBA

During his sophomore year, Smith began working part time at The Clarion Ledger covering high school sports. There, he hit a “comfortable groove,” and after graduation, Smith walked into a full-time job with the media organization.

“I was covering all sorts of stuff from high school football, recruiting, Mississippi State and Ole Miss – the SEC,” he says.

In 2001, Smith took a job with the Indianapolis Star, which started his path to the NBA. He describes the opportunity as a “good fit,” transitioning from Jackson to covering professional sports.

“It was there I kind of dove into what I’m doing now in terms of covering the NBA and basketball on a full-time basis. I stayed there until 2005 when I left Indianapolis and moved to Atlanta to cover the NBA for the Atlanta Journal Constitution,” says Smith, who in 2009 accepted his current position in Atlanta with NBA.com and NBATV.

“I’m basically a multi-media specialist. I write stories. I do television, and I have a podcast – ‘Hangtime.’ I work on all those different platforms on a daily basis. I analyze the league, reporting and writing on the NBA,” he says. Smith has observed the professional basketball industry from all aspects. In 2012, he covered the London Olympics and the World Championship in Spain. This past summer, he was due in Tokoyo to report on the Olympics. However, the coronavirus pandemic forced postponement of the sporting event until next year. A seasoned journalist, Smith says he still has “wow
moments” like his intimate interview with Bill Russell, an NBA champion and Hall-of-Famer.

“He’s won more than anybody in this league. He’s also like the elder statesman of the league. I got a chance to sit down with him and get schooled on how to talk to someone who has had those kinds of life experiences,” says Smith. He’s one of those guys – given the things he has done and seen in his lifetime – that you kind of sit back and try to gain as much wisdom and understanding of how a Black man of his stature navigated different eras from the civil rights movement until now.”

Sekou Smith pictured with Kevin Durant, forward for the Brooklyn Nets, and his former podcast co-host Lang Whitaker during the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto. Previously, Durant helped lead the Golden State Warriors to win back-to-back NBA championships.

Sekou Smith pictured with Kevin Durant, forward for the Brooklyn Nets, and his former podcast co-host Lang Whitaker during the 2016 All-Star Weekend in Toronto. Previously, Durant helped lead the Golden State Warriors to win back-to-back NBA championships.

Another prized memory, Smith recalls, is sitting at a table of reporters as NBA legend Michael Jordan fielded questions. “He just kind of walked in from out of nowhere. He sat down in the middle of this big rectangle of tables we were seated at. It was amazing being able to talk to him no holds barred like that.” With an air of gratitude, Smith says he covered the league at a special time, when NBA greats Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant were still in the game. He describes the tragic passing of Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant as shocking.

“I think of the fact that he was so young and had his daughter with him. It’s the saddest thing. Kobe had so much of his life that was on display. He grew up in front of everybody,” he says, almost in disbelief.

Overall, Smith shares that he enjoys the diversity and traveling aspect of his job. He recognizes that working in places like the Netherlands and Germany is something most people may never see. “It doesn’t get much better than getting up every day and being immersed in this environment. As an 18-year-old kid, I would’ve never thought I would be doing this,” he says.

And to think, it all started at JSU.

“All my best friends that I met my first year at JSU are still my best friends to this day. It was a melting pot. We had a melting pot of likeminded people trying to find themselves and trying to do something. We all met on that campus together. It was just the right fit in my life as I was trying to figure out what to do with myself.”

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