#Kenny Smith on personal racial injustices, NBA restart, Knicks job

Kenny Smith on personal racial injustices, NBA restart, Knicks job

Former player and current TNT analyst Kenny Smith, a Queens native, discusses the current social unrest over racial inequality and the upcoming return of the NBA from a pandemic shutdown in a Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: What experiences with racial injustice did you endure growing up in Lefrak City?

A: I grew up in the era of stop-and-frisk, where if you fit a certain profile … well what does that mean? That profile is black and American. Anytime they could just stop you and they could frisk you and see if you had anything on you. And so, the humiliation of that, you become a little resilient to, based on your success. I grew up in New York, and they say New York is a dangerous city, but the only time I’ve ever had a gun pulled on me was by a police officer. Never by a civilian. I’ve never broken one law ever in my life. That just gives you a different kind of mental thought process. If I was a person who didn’t have the kind of success and you’re dealing with that and you’re struggling, you could imagine the animosity that you can build up and have. I always understood my privilege of success and the reason for my resilience.

Q: How often did that happen to you growing up?

A: I lived in Lefrak City. It would happen, either to me or one of my friends, once a week. You walk four blocks and you’re in a different ethnic area, so to speak. The questions would range from, “Hey, what are you doing here?” To, “Hey, what are you doing here?” To, “Hey, excuse me, do you live over here?” It’s all the same question, just different tone. But again, my success would allow me to be resilient enough not to feel like a powder keg every time it happened. Because I would always look at it and go, “I’m gonna be better than it, and they don’t even know it.”

Q: I’m talking about before your success at Archbishop Molloy High School, and North Carolina, and the NBA.

A: I always had a delusion of grandeur about myself.

Q: Was there one particular incident when you feared for your life?

A: I always had an understanding that my life wasn’t as valued to everyone and that it could be taken if I behaved a certain way. That typically, if you weren’t black, you could behave that way and your life not be in danger. So I just stayed away from any type of, quote, “altercation” or “questioning” even though I knew I was right. And that is a demoralizing, dehumanizing feeling, that you can’t question when you’re even right. And you know you can’t do that, not because you’re gonna get anything other than … killed.

Q: How many times would you say you were pulled over driving?

A: Probably … seven, eight times. And, out of those seven, eight times, you know how many times I actually got a ticket?

Q: How many?

A: None. … I have one speeding ticket in my life.

Kenny Smith and Charles BarkleyGetty Images

Q: What were you feeling when you first watched the George Floyd video?

A: Throughout my life, unfortunately, I’ve seen those same scenarios happen, but just didn’t end in death.

Q: What would be your message to white people?

A: My job is not to educate white Americans. That’s not my burden. That’s another burden you’re putting on the person who’s being oppressed. … The PETA people, they don’t go to the cat, you know, “Hey cat, what can we do for you?” They see the injustice of animals and they figure out and they educate themselves that, “I don’t want to be part of a world with that.” You just have to think about it in a perspective that I have to think about it my whole life. I have to think about the inclusion of everyone my whole life.

Q: You addressed police reform on your “Inside the NBA” show.

A: I think it’s important that we have an independent prosecutor. It’s a very difficult job to prosecute people that you’re with on a daily basis. For me, that’s like refereeing a game that you’re playing in. It’s impossible or unfair, and that’s why the conviction rates are very low. The second one would be, you have to have an opportunity where if you’re in the car with your partner and he does a wrong, you’re liable just like he is for what he’s doing. … You can’t drive the getaway car and say you’re not part of the robbery.

Q: What kind of racism has your 12-year-old son Malloy encountered?

A: Now it’s about, he’s listening to stories that he didn’t know about me. His first reaction most of the time: “Dad, you could have sued! (Laugh).” His logic is pure, of, “no, that’s injustice.” That doesn’t make sense to him. If I’m 21 years old, I’ve had a black president for eight years. That’s why you see a different reaction from these kids today than you see before. They’ve had an African-American president for eight years of their life, and they might only be 23 years old. So they don’t see themselves at any point of their life unequal to anything.

Q: Do you think the NFL owed Colin Kaepernick an apology?

A: That’s their choice. But I would say, [to] those who don’t apologize, we’re aware of you. For me, I’d like to know who I’m around — like, I know who you are now. Because the Band-Aid has been pulled off America again, and we see the scab and it’s not healed, and it’s actually still bleeding. So OK, you don’t apologize, I’m not telling you you have to, it’s not my burden to tell you that. But I’m aware of the people who don’t. I’m aware of the people who now don’t understand why he knelt.

Q: What did you think of Drew Brees’ comments?

A: I listened to his apology, I have not processed it yet. So I can’t say that I do forgive or not. But I just think that here’s a person that we cheer for. He interacts with African-American athletes and people on a daily basis. And to not understand or even acknowledge their plight, or not have empathy in this moment, hurt more.

Q: Do you suppose there may be more NFL players kneeling than standing?

A: I really don’t know. I think the message is out. So kneeling, standing — we all know now there’s no one who’s in America could ever say that they didn’t have a chance to understand what’s going on. There are certain people in this world who are what I call Paul Revere. He was the one who was saying, “The British are coming, the British are coming!” They alert everyone to what’s going on. For some reason, that’s not me. There’s someone who was saying when the British are coming, “This is what we’re gonna do.” We don’t even know who that person is right now. Someone had a plan, and that guy in history a lot of times does not get recognized as like, “Who’s the guy, when he said that, developed a plan to be like, ‘Yo, this is what we’re gonna do when those British come.’ ” That’s me. I’m a solution-based person. I’m gonna tell you what to do when they get here. But I can’t exist without him.

Q: So Kaepernick was Paul Revere then.

A: Without question. “The police are brutal, the police are brutal.” He was that modern-day person.

Q: What are your thoughts on the resumption of the NBA season.

A: It’s needed. Sports entertainment has always been a fabric of the United States. It’s a great wealth creator especially for African Americans in our country.

Q: How do you feel about the 22-team format?

A: I think it’s gonna be fun, because it’s gonna be somewhat unique but somewhat similar.

Q: What about playing with no fans?

A: Well, 90 percent of the time in your life you do play without fans, through practice and whatever. Put it like this: When I was playing, I had more adrenaline knowing the game was on national television. Like, “The world is watching.” The world will be watching, and the players understand that. These will become the highest-rated games probably in the history of the sport.

Q: Are you concerned about the safety aspect, particularly for the older coaches?

A: I am, but I know that Adam Silver’s been in the forefront of innovation, the league thought process, and civil rights. … I’m interested to see how they do it. I do worry, but at the same time, I’m sure that even some of the coaches might wear protective masks while they’re coaching.

Q: Who do you like to win it all?

A: I have to see who got in shape and who didn’t stay in shape (laugh). I have no idea — what if Anthony Davis comes back 100 pounds heavier? I gotta see these guys. All bets are off right now. If it was constructed the way it was left, I would have said the Milwaukee Bucks.

Q: Would you like to interview for the Knicks head-coaching job?

A: They know where I am (laugh). They know what I could bring to the table in any capacity. There is a head coach there now [interim coach Mike Miller]. … I don’t like to talk about guys’ jobs who still have a job.

Q: Why would you be a good head coach?

A: Well, I would be a good asset to any program, in any capacity. There’s people that you have to convince of what you’re saying. I think people trust what I say.

Q: What did you learn about Michael Jordan watching “The Last Dance” that you didn’t know?

A: I didn’t know that he would actually let the public into that and pull the curtain back. … I was surprised how honest he was.

Q: Describe Charles Barkley for me.

A: Charles Barkley is the guy that you’re gonna hear before you see. He is very benevolent. But at the same time, very aware of what he’s giving. And [the] choices in what he gives. One of the best basketball players at his position. Recreated and redefined the position.

Q: Shaquille O’Neal.

A: He’s going to be the biggest personality in the room, and the biggest in the room. Good will. Laughter.

Q: Ernie Johnson.

A: He’s going to overprepare himself in case of emergency. He’s your person that he breaks a glass in case of emergency.

Q: Cole Anthony and LaMelo Ball.

A: Cole Anthony reminds me of Brandon Lloyd at the point guard position. LaMelo Ball, he may be able to have your building be electric if his potential pans out.

Q: How good can Zion Williamson be?

A: He could change the direction of the way we play the game today. He could make it playing from inside-out instead of outside-in.

Q: Why were you called Special K in high school?

A: I was in a rap group, and that was my rap moniker. And it was after the [cereal].

Kenny Smith
Kenny SmithGetty Images

Q: Boyhood idol?

A: Walt Frazier.

Q: What playground did you mostly play at?

A: The Lost Battalion Hall, right on Queens Boulevard. I played every day in that gym. And Lefrak City in the back court.

Q: How did those games toughen you up?

A: You were always playing with older kids, older men. In New York, men dominate the court. I was on the court when I was 12, 13 playing with men.

Q: Describe your rivalry in high school with Mark Jackson.

A: (Laugh) That’s my guy! He helped build and shape who I am, he and Pearl Washington. And Kenny Hutchinson, actually. Those were the guys that I always competed against, and Mark Jackson — my mom and his mom would go at it in the stands, and then afterwards, we’d all go out to eat (laugh).

Q: You would like to see him back coaching.

A: Oh yeah. He’s a great basketball mind. There wouldn’t be no Golden State Warriors if it wasn’t for him.

Q: Describe your on-court mentality.

A: I would say very competitive … very passionate … and very heady.

Q: What were the similarities between Archbishop Molloy Coach Jack Curran and Dean Smith.

A: Integrity. They would have the unique ability to treat every human being the same, regardless of how great they were, ethnic background, whatever it was.

Q: So both of them would be encouraged or proud of what’s happening in this country today?

A: They would be part of the movement.

Q: Three dinner guests?

A: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King [Jr.], Bill Russell.

Q: Favorite movie?

A: “Officer and a Gentleman.”

Q: Favorite actor?

A: Denzel [Washington].

Q: Favorite actress?

A: Charlize Theron.

Q: Favorite singer/entertainer?

A: The Notorious B.I.G.

Q: Favorite meal?

A: Any type of pasta or lasagna.


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