Monte Morris (11) of the Denver Nuggets and Dwight Howard of the L.A. Lakers look on as LeBron James (23) dunks in a 2020 NBA conference final playoff game.
Player-turned-analyst Kenny Smith
The four seasons of Survivor’s Remorse, from executive producer LeBron James, can be streamed on Starz.com; the stars include (from left) Tichina Arnold, RonReaco Lee, Teyonah Parris, Erica Ash and Jessie T. Usher.
Over his 10 years in the NBA — and more than 700 games — Kenny Smith showcased an incredible knack for what he likes to call "court vision."
Whatever happened in the heat of the action, he could observe it, process it and then execute whatever move it took to come out on top. As it turns out, that skill remained valuable after the final buzzer sounded for his career.
"In my playing days, I used to take shows and movies I liked and write different endings to them," says Smith, who retired in 1997 after spending most of his career with the Houston Rockets. He's spent the past 23 years as an in-studio analyst for the Emmy-winning NBA TV series Inside the NBA.
"I'd watch The Odd Couple or The Terminator and think, 'This person shouldn't have done this' or 'They shouldn't have said that.' That's why I ended up moving into producing. It's all based on how I watch TV, which is also how I played the game."
Smith has parlayed his ability to find and tell stories into his own event and production company, Smith Entertainment Group, which is currently developing potential television shows as well as a film about New York basketball legend–turned–drug dealer Pee Wee Kirkland. And Smith isn't the only basketball star moving into television production.
• The Lakers' LeBron James has become a major mogul with productions such as the 2014-17 Starz series Survivor's Remorse, the NBC game show The Wall and the Netflix miniseries Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.
• Former Laker Shaquille O'Neal — a mammoth presence in TV spots for products ranging from car insurance to pain relievers — is producing as well as starring in upcoming shows like Shaq's Garage and Shaq Talk.
• The Golden State Warriors' perennial all-star Stephen Curry is an executive producer on both the ABC competition show Holey Moley and an upcoming animated remake of the 1970s CBS series Good Times.
• Former NBA all-star and current TNT analyst Chris Webber is producing a limited scripted series, Fab Five, based on his experiences playing basketball at the University of Michigan.
The list goes on: current and past NBA stars including Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Charles Barkley, Blake Griffin and Dwyane Wade have all gotten into the TV game in various ways.
They're certainly not the first basketball players to enter the world of media production. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant won an Oscar as a producer of the animated short Dear Basketball, and his production company, Granity Studios, was exploring a variety of TV projects before his death in early 2020.
Athletes from other sports have also become major TV presences during or after their playing days, like Peyton Manning, Terry Bradshaw, Serena Williams and Derek Jeter. More often than not, though, they're better known for appearing in front of the camera rather than creating projects behind it.
It's no accident that basketball players have a better shot at TV production success than stars from other sports. According to Brett Weitz, general manager of TBS, TNT and truTV, everything about their sport naturally lends itself to what networks want.
"They're all entertainers," says Weitz, whose channels have partnered with the NBA to broadcast games since 1984. "They really are traveling shows in and of themselves. Before the game, they're a fashion show. They're all about having the right look that people will talk about, especially with their sneakers.
"During the game, they're part of the best experience in sports. Then, after the game, it's kind of like a comedy show when they talk to the press — a lot of the outtakes are some of the funniest things you'll see that day. They're almost self-producing each day of their professional lives. NBA players are just a different breed of entertainer."
Like all athletes, basketball players are well aware that their on-court livelihood has a shelf life, so they seek ways to build a second career.
"They look at television production as a way to do that, because they have to appear on TV all the time anyway," says Stephen A. Smith, ESPN commentator and host of the new ESPN+ series Stephen A's World.
"They find themselves having to deal with networks, so when they're presented with ideas they can start in on, along with getting a chance to exercise their cerebral muscles, [the move into production] makes sense."
It doesn't hurt that basketball players are already more visible during their games than competitors in other team sports. "Nothing obscures their recognizability," says actor-writer-producer Mike O'Malley, who worked with James on Survivor's Remorse. "In baseball and football, they wear pads and hats and helmets. There are people who live and die with football and still wouldn't always know the players on sight."
Adds Wade, who spent most of his 16 years playing in the NBA with the Miami Heat and is set to host and executive-produce the upcoming WarnerMedia game show The Cube: "We don't cover our faces, and our emotions are etched on them for fans to see. That gives us a little more of a connection with them."
That visibility "gets you in the door quicker" when it comes to working in television, according to Kenny Smith, though it's not enough to guarantee that players' ideas will make it onto the air.
Still, Wade believes the recognition factor does mean that basketball players connect to what TV viewers might want to see in a way that other athletes and even actors may not. "We know about the pulse of culture," he says, "because we have to give people what they want — during the games and after." ...
For the rest of the story and more photos, pick up a copy of emmy magazine HERE
Tis article orignally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2021