Between his prediction for a second consecutive Golden State Warriors NBA championship and an 11-6 record for the Dallas Cowboys, Stephen A. Smith remained unapologetically himself in UF’s University Auditorium.
The sports analyst said his success — like his spots on ESPN shows like “First Take”, “NBA Countdown” and “SportsCenter” — stems from his authenticity and willingness to defend his takes. His viewers know to expect well-researched and well-defended arguments when he shares his opinions, he said.
“You can trust Stephen A. to be Stephen A.,” Smith said.
The secret to his popularity, Smith told more than 300 students, is an unyielding commitment to staying true to his personality.
Journalism department chair and professor Ted Spiker interviewed him before the guest fielded questions from the ACCENT Speaker’s Bureau event’s crowd Wednesday.
Students applauded after he detailed his relationships with sports personality Skip Bayless and long-time Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson, whom Smith likened to brothers. Smith explained the ups and downs of both relationships and stressed the importance of perseverance.
Everyone’s friends, he said, are threats for prospective jobs in the future. Students need to prepare for corporate America, he said.
“Everyone you’re sitting next to is competition,” Smith said.
He told students to go above and beyond and become indispensable to their bosses and respectable in their careers. Internships and real-world experiences were just as important to Smith, even more important than education.
Smith showed himself as a picture of the American dream. He lived off a $15,000 salary at the beginning of his career — now he's a multimillionaire.
To get to the status he has today, Smith said he developed valuable relationships with players and other television personalities and gained trust with his audience throughout his career.
Smith’s proudest work, he said, was when he predicted LeBron James’ free agency signing with the Miami Heat in July 2010 three weeks before it was announced, and everyone thought he sounded crazy. The prediction was no longer met with criticism, as Wednesday’s cheering audience gave him credit for his bold take.
While Smith said he doesn’t keep up much with Florida football — a statement followed by lighthearted boos from UF students — he still described his Mount Rushmore of Gators sports: Al Horford, Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer and Billy Donovan.
“Back in the day, it was always Florida,” Smith said. “That’s the standard.”
He felt the team needed to move in a different direction following last season’s disappointing outcome. Florida finished with a 6-7 overall record and lost at the hands of UCF 29-17 in the Gasparilla Bowl December 2021, a game Smith could not recall the name of.
Newcomer head coach Billy Napier has Smith’s interest, but he said the SEC will be no easy conference for the first-year Gators football coach. He said the Gators need to be competitive every year.
Smith said The Swamp is a great sports environment, and UF is a prestigious university with good potential.
Tristan Van Horn, a 19-year-old UF biochemistry junior, wore an Ezekiel Elliot Dallas football jersey to the event. Smith is known for his dislike of the “sorry-ass Cowboys” — Van Horn’s favorite team.
“I know he has very strong opinions on the Cowboys,” he said. “I thought it'd be best fitting to wear a Cowboys jersey.”
Van Horn appreciated Smith’s words on competition in the workforce.
“I liked his take on how you can have your friends around you, but at the end of the day, you still have to compete with them for the top spot,” Van Horn said.”
Smith, who was Summer’s first speaker after TikTok star Josh Richards postponed his $60,000 event last month indefinitely, was William Shaoul’s first speaker event at UF. The 18-year-old UF computer science freshman said Smith’s story teaches students to stay candid as they work toward success.
“To do what you want to do, you have to work hard,” he said.
Contact Kyle Bumpers at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BumpersKyle.
Contact Sandra McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald.
Sandra McDonald is a third-year journalism major and the Student Government reporter for the University Desk. This is her first semester at the Alligator. When she's not reporting, she's probably reading fantasy novels and listening to Taylor Swift.
Kyle Bumpers is a fourth-year journalism major with a specialization in sports and media. He is the Gators men's tennis beat reporter for The Alligator. When off the clock, he watches too many movies and writes too many Letterboxd reviews.