Friday on ESPN’s blowhard bonanza First Take, Stephen A. Smith didn’t just take everyone’s favorite celebrity basketball wife Ayesha Curry to task for criticizing the NBA after the Warriors’ Game 6 NBA Finals loss to the Cavaliers ended with her MVP husband, Steph Curry, ejected for the first time in his career, in a game rife with eyebrow-raising calls.
He also didn’t just compare Curry, an actress and blogger and author in her own right, to Savannah Brinson, the wife of Cavs leader LeBron James, whom he took pains to praise for managing to remain beautiful—and, more importantly, silent—by the side of basketball’s reigning royal.
What Smith did was worse than all that. He self-righteously deigned to tell a woman, and by extension, all women, how to behave—and what’s more, that she should value the interest and reputation of the man in her life above her own. And he did it with no ounce of awareness for how painfully clueless he sounded.
“Beautiful young lady, promising future, but she stepped out of line,” Smith volunteered the morning after Game 6, chiding Ayesha Curry for suggesting the NBA is “rigged” in a heated tweet she later deleted. “She stepped out of pocket.”
Ayesha stepped out of line, you see, because she is a basketball wife. She’s young, though, and new to this superstar status. Perhaps she hasn’t yet learned that basketball wives, especially basketball wives married to high-profile stars of the sport, should strictly behave as vessels of feminine support per Smith’s patriarchal rules of domestic celebrity living.
The brouhaha began when Steph earned the first ejection of his career and Ayesha expressed her frustration on Twitter, but it’s opened a discussion on how we view the women on the sidelines in sports and particularly basketball, where players’ partners are largely silent and shepherded away from the limelight. Unless, of course, you’re Ayesha Curry. “I’ve lost all respect sorry this is absolutely rigged for money,” Curry tweeted to her 560,000 followers on Thursday night. “Or ratings in not sure which. I won’t be silent . Just saw it live sry.”
Plenty of Steph Curry fans, men and women, shared Ayesha’s outrage. But according to Smith, one of sports’ most controversial bloviators, Ayesha crossed the line the minute she opened her mouth.
“You are the wife of Steph Curry,” he said, addressing her directly on his show. “What you do is a reflection on him. What you do is a reflection on the organization he works for. You have to be mindful of that. You can’t get caught up in your own individual emotions and having this zest to speak out to the point where it compromises your husband.”
Women: Always so emotional. Resist the urge to express yourself—it might get in the way of the best interests of your husband or the company he works for!
Telling a woman he later admitted he does not personally know what she “should” be doing, and calling her “classless” while insisting that he has nothing but the utmost respect for her, Smith kept digging a hole and filling it with yet more sexist ranting. Another cringe-inducingly condescending word he used to describe Ayesha Curry, a bright and smart young woman and mother with her own cookbook, blog, and social media following: Adorable.
“She’s an adorable young lady with an incredibly promising future. I wish her nothing but love, respect, and happiness,” he said. “But you can’t do that. You just can’t do that.”
Even Steph’s mother Sonya landed in the crosshairs of Smith’s backhanded niceties as he chided Mama Curry for blowing kisses to the crowd after her son’s ejection, which immediately triggered deafening taunts from the hometown fans. Smith used it as yet another angle to slam Ayesha while praising the Jameses as the model NBA couple.
“If that was Savannah, LeBron’s wife, if that were Gloria, LeBron’s mother, what would we be saying?” Smith said. “LeBron James has a mom and has a wife, has kids, great guy, an even greater ambassador of the game of basketball than Steph Curry because he’s done it over the test of time. Wonderful, beautiful father.”
“And I’ve got news for you: As beautiful as everyone wants to say Ayesha Curry is, and she is, Savannah is something special. I’m here to tell you something right now. Ain’t a man alive, particularly a black man, that’s going to look at LeBron James’s wife and not say that that woman ain’t gorgeous.”
Um, sure? Smith’s point: That the “gorgeous” and “special” Savannah is worthy of celebrating because she behaves like a proper NBA wife who looks great and never opens her mouth or basks in the spotlight.
“She’s wonderful inside and out,” Smith continued. “She sits there, she doesn’t bring any attention to herself. She never tweets and goes out there and calls out the league and stuff like that. And nobody—NOBODY—is more scrutinized than her husband. But yet she thinks about how she represents him and she doesn’t do that.”
Bringing a little MRA regression into the NBA universe is something Smith has been working hard at for a while. But for all the casually flung, defiantly sexist hot takes he’s thrown out in the past on First Take, the show he hosts with Skip Bayless, Smith’s rarely gotten the heat clapped back right at him live, while still on the air, from the very subject of his misogyny.
Which is what basketball’s most popular female personality did Friday morning.
The tweet that started it all came at the end of a trying evening in Cleveland in which the Golden State Warriors’ family members were (maybe suspiciously) delayed from entering the Quicken Loans Arena before tip-off, according to Curry. What’s more, her own father was mistaken for a known event-scalping crook and detained by local police, who “racially profiled” him and “told him to remove his credentials and tried to arrest him,” she said.
Ayesha’s frustration at the NBA officials was a sentiment echoed by many a Warriors fan, watching as Steph Curry drew six fouls while his team chased the Cavs with 4:22 left in the game. The development frustrated the Golden State superstar so much, he threw his mouth guard into the stands in disgust. The toss got him ejected from the game and fined $25,000.
“He had every right to be upset,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who was also slapped with a $25,000 fine for complaining about the refereeing. “He’s the MVP of the league. He gets six fouls called on him, three of them were absolutely ridiculous,” Kerr said. “He steals the ball from Kyrie [Irving] clean at one point. LeBron [James] flops on the last one. [Referee] Jason Phillips falls for that—for a flop. As the MVP of the league, we’re talking about these touch fouls in the NBA Finals.”
Steph, for his part, didn’t seem to mind his wife’s outspokenness on social media. After all, only one Curry threw a mouthpiece in anger Thursday night, prompting the admonishment of the league. “When it comes to Twitter and all that, everybody says stuff where you get caught in the moment,” Curry said after the game. “After a while, you kind of stand and calm down. Things might not be as you thought…I don’t fault her from showing some emotion on Twitter.”
Ayesha later deleted the “incendiary” tweet, but not before it went viral online and sparked a resounding backlash. One tweet she kept up, however, was her perfectly pointed shot back at Smith on Friday morning after he started going in on her on First Take.
“Why are you putting two women against each other like that?” she asked Smith. “You're the one that's out of pocket.”
Ayesha hit the nail on the head, but she could have gone even further. Let’s dive back into Smith’s tone-deaf rant for more gems about Savannah Brinson, a woman who by all accounts chooses to stay out of the spotlight, and why she serves as an ideal example for celeb wives like Ayesha.
“She’s quiet, she’s unassuming, she doesn’t bother,” Smith shouted, excitedly. “She stays in her lane and plays her position. She is LeBron’s wife and anything that she says or does can fall back on him. She is protective of her man!”
“Skip, I would say this to any lady who is the lady of a man: If you are doing that, you are thinking about yourself, and not him. And that puts him in a compromising or potentially precarious position. And I believe you have an obligation to look out for your man like that!”
“You’re not just Ayesha Curry: You are Steph Curry’s wife. Period.”
Called out by Ayesha while still on the air, Smith made a home in the bunker of misogyny he’d dug for himself.
“I would never, ever, disrespect the wife of a player, period,” he insisted, claiming that he was only trying to help Ayesha avoid bringing scrutiny upon herself and on her husband. “What I’m trying to explain to you miss—Mrs. Ayesha Curry, is that it’s not me. It’s you.”
Smith says he intended no disrespect, and maybe he never means to offend anyone—but he tends to do it over and over again just the same. And when he does offend the people he’s commenting about, they have a strange way of almost always being women. Weird.
Over the span of a few days in 2014, Smith managed to unleash several doozies, making a homophobic comment about out NFLer Michael Sam making other players “uncomfortable.” He launched an awkward defense of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was twice accused of sexual assault and suspended by the NFL for four games for personal conduct stemming from a 2010 incident in which a 20-year-old woman accused him of raping her in the restroom of a Georgia nightclub: “Ben Roethlisberger, to me, has never come across as a bad guy.”
The biggest faux pas of his commentating career, however, caused an outcry when he suggested women were to blame for provoking domestic abuse. Discussing the Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for punching out his fiancée in the elevator of a Las Vegas hotel, Smith needled the women of the world to “do your part… to make sure [domestic abuse] doesn’t happen.”
Smith issued an apology after getting a talking to from the studio, but went on a lengthy Twitter rant defending himself, refusing to take responsibility for the weight of his words. Domestic abuse, he urged, is wrong. “But what about addressing women on how they can help prevent the obvious wrong being done upon them?” he tweeted.
This time last summer, Smith was again deflecting a tidal wave of criticism for making a sexist offhand remark in cross-talk during a SportsCenter clip from the Women’s World Cup, in which Norway’s Maren Mjelde nailed a picture-perfect bending free kick against Germany.
After NBA analyst Tim Legler—who comments on basketball, not soccer—noted that the German players appeared to turn their heads away from the ball because “they didn’t want to catch one in the grill,” Smith—also not a professional soccer analyst by any stretch—joked that “they might not have wanted to mess up their hair.” He made sure to say it twice.
The solution is simple, Stephen A. Smith: Start valuing women for more than their looks and their obedience, and stop telling them how to behave. Period.