After taking most of the summer off to recover from shoulder surgery, Stephen A. Smith was back on set Monday, returning to his familiar First Take stomping grounds after a monthlong absence. ESPN spared no expense in welcoming back their resident hot-take artist, broadcasting live from a boat docked outside ESPN’s Seaport studio in Lower Manhattan, but not before a rousing introduction from NFL-insider-turned-hype-man Adam Schefter.
Wearing a burnt orange blazer like the one Robert DeNiro made famous in Casino, Stephen A. added his usual bombastic flavor to Monday’s proceedings, needling Michael Irvin about the Cowboys’ lackluster showing in their preseason opener, committing an inexcusable 17 penalties in a loss to Denver. All that was missing was Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, who, apparently will have to wait until Wednesday to unveil his latest top-five list, screaming himself hoarse from defending John Havlicek and other athletes of yesteryear.
Smith is, for better or worse, the face of ESPN and a pioneering voice in the sports debate movement. The outspoken 54-year-old may not be for everyone, though it’s hard to deny his credentials as a performer and personality, even if what he does on First Take doesn’t necessarily fit under the umbrella of journalism. At the end of the day, viewers aren’t looking for nuance out of Smith—they want to be entertained. And what’s more entertaining than Smith, dressed like a pumpkin, having a debate about Kevin Durant while floating on the East River?