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Stephen A. Smith has criticized LeBron James for all kinds of crazy reasons over the course of the last decade. From the time he ripped him for tweeting about playing in the NFL rather than worrying about winning his first NBA title, to the time he said LeBron will never be able to match Michael Jordan’s legacy, SAS has gone in on James early and often, on TV shows like ESPN First Take and on his various social media accounts.
Despite all of the shots SAS has taken at LeBron over the years, though, there has never really been any "beef" between the two men because, for the most part, LeBron has steered clear of responding to anything SAS has said about him. Even though some of the stuff has no doubt gotten under LeBron’s skin, he's shied away from responding to almost everything SAS has said and reported about him, so tensions between the two haven’t escalated.
But that all changed on Tuesday when LeBron decided to respond to a report that SAS put out earlier this week. If you somehow missed it, SAS was doing his daily ESPN Radio show on Monday when he revealed that "sources" in LeBron's camp told him that LeBron is "tempted to beat [Kyrie Irving's] ass" as a result of the recent trade rumors swirling around Irving and the Cavaliers. SAS reported that a source told him LeBron wasn’t necessarily upset with Irving because of the rumors, but rather, he was upset because his name was being dragged into the discussion and he was being cited as one of the reasons Irving wanted out of Cleveland.
LeBron took to Twitter to shoot down that report. He used the hashtag #NotFacts and told people to "get another source" if they want the truth about the state of his current relationship with Irving:
SAS very well could have just taken to Twitter himself and said that he was standing behind his original report. But if you know SAS, then you know that he would never do something that quietly. So rather than going in that direction, SAS unloaded on LeBron during a 15-minute rant on his radio show on Tuesday. He reiterated what he said in his original report on LeBron and Irving.
"If LeBron James was in front of Kyrie Irving, I was told, quote, he would be tempted to whoop his ass," SAS said. "That’s what was told to me. I did not speculate, I did not put that out there, it was told to me. Verbatim."
SAS also seemed to threaten LeBron during his rant; he said if LeBron wanted to play hard ball with him, he was prepared to tell "the real story about what happened with LeBron James against Boston the spring before he decided to leave Cleveland and take his talents to South Beach." It was a reference to the struggles LeBron endured during his final playoff series as a Cavalier prior to his signing with the Heat in 2010.
You can listen to SAS go off on LeBron here:
SAS followed that up with another rant on First Take Wednesday morning. Even though he’s on vacation from the show right now, he made a special appearance to continue ripping LeBron:
He went on The Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz and continued his anti-LeBron rant there, too:
Does the idea of one of ESPN’s leading NBA analysts/reporters going off on the best basketball player in the world seem crazy to you? Us, too. While we admit we’ve been entertained by the SAS vs. LeBron drama—especially since this is traditionally a pretty dead time of year for sports—it seems strange to see a beef like this playing out on ESPN.
But we really shouldn’t be all that surprised by it. SAS has, after all, spent quite a bit of time beefing with professional athletes in recent years. From Arian Foster and Josh Gordon to Martavis Bryant and Michael Bennett, he has refused to fall back when pro athletes have called him out for one reason or another. But in particular, SAS has been involved in some really bizarre beefs with NBA players.
Back in May 2014, SAS was involved in a brief beef with then-Warriors center Andrew Bogut, one that was pretty tame when compared to his most recent beef with LeBron. It started after SAS accused Bogut of having "no heart." He went as far as to suggest Bogut’s teammates called him the "Tin Man" behind his back:
SAS also referred to Bogut as "Andrew Bogus." At that point, Bogut decided he had heard enough. A few weeks later, Bogut made an appearance on a podcast in Australia and said that SAS is "just a wanker."
A few months later, SAS also got into it with then-76ers guard Michael Carter-Williams after Carter-Williams wrote a lengthy article for The Players’ Tribune. In the piece, he touched on the time the Sixers set a new NBA record by losing their 27th game in a row in the spring of 2014. He accused reporters like SAS of suggesting that the Sixers were losing games on purpose.
Carter-Williams also said he believes SAS is "playing a character" every time he goes on TV. That prompted SAS to fire back at him on social media, where he seemingly warned Carter-Williams by telling him to "be careful who you try and call out":
But SAS’ most notable beef with an NBA player—prior to his beef with LeBron, at least—took place in the fall of 2015 when he got into a war of words with Kevin Durant. During the NBA offseason that year, SAS reported that he had heard KD might end up on the Knicks alongside Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant. KD responded to that report by saying SAS was "lying." He also said SAS didn’t know anyone in his inner circle, as he had suggested in his initial report.
KD's comments led SAS to go on a now-infamous rant on First Take that included him saying, "You do not want to make an enemy out of me":
SAS added: "This implication that I don’t know stuff? Y’all better think twice about that. Because when these NBA games come, you’re going to see me at these arenas, and remember what I said to you: I can find out more in 10 minutes at a basketball arena than I can on the phone with 50 different people inside of two weeks. Think about that, and ask yourself: Do you really want to go there?"
Some people might have toned down their act after all of the controversy that the situation with KD caused. But SAS has continued to beef with NBA players since then.
In early 2016, SAS engaged in a back-and-forth with former NBA star Glenn Robinson. According to an interview Robinson did with TMZ Sports, the beef started back when he was still playing in the league, after SAS wrote something about him that he didn’t like. It reignited after SAS appeared on SiriusXM’s Karen Hunter Show and accused Robinson of not following the pro-black agenda he preached during his playing days:
"I saw this man march lock step with what [former Bucks head coach] George Karl wanted to do…but Randy Ayers became the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers…you treated this man like trash," SAS said. "But you’ll come and talk to reporters about how brothers need to facilitate brothers being hired, but you had one and how’d you treat him?"
That beef ended with Robinson proposing a cage match between him and SAS:
And as recently as June, SAS got tangled up with former NBA player Lamar Odom after he made a wildly disrespectful comment on First Take. While criticizing then-Knicks team president Phil Jackson on the show, SAS pointed out that one of Jackson’s first moves with the Knicks in 2015 was to sign Odom, who was, in his words, "on crack":
Odom fired back through his lawyer, who sent a letter to ESPN concerning SAS’ comments about his battle with drug addiction. "To say his conduct was outrageous and unacceptable does not scratch the surface," the letter said. "We hope those at ESPN will actively voice their disdain for Mr. Smith’s inappropriate statement and take the proper action to support those that are fighting this disease."
SAS responded by issuing an apology of sorts, in which he said that the comments he made were meant to be directed at Jackson and "were NOT to put any more focus on Lamar Odom’s much publicized drug use and addiction."
He added: "Lamar Odom was not the focus of my ire. My comments were entirely, totally, meant for Phil Jackson."
If all of this proves anything, it’s that when you spend as much time as SAS does debating sports on TV, on the radio, and on social media, you’re going to upset athletes eventually. They’re going to take issue with some of the things that you say and report, and they’re going to call you out for it. It comes with the territory, especially when you're as vocal about your opinions as SAS often is.
But it’s still pretty crazy to see just how willing SAS is to beef with some of the biggest names in the sport that he covers the closest. And after seeing how far he’s been willing to take his beef with LeBron this week, we can’t help but wonder how long he’s going to keep this up.