Goodbye, Max Kellerman; hello, Magic Johnson? ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith wants to team up with NBA legend

Stephen A. Smith reportedly wanted Max Kellerman off “First Take” for years, and his wish was finally granted this week when ESPN announced that Kellerman would be shifting over to ESPN Radio and receiving his own daily TV show. That move meant the network would have to answer a big question: Who will be working with Smith moving forward?

Well, Smith already has a few big names in mind. The New York Post’s Andrew Machand reported Thursday that Smith is eyeing a partnership with Magic Johnson, possibly on ESPN’s “NBA Countdown” show. Smith would also like Michael Wilbon to join him and Johnson, per Marchand, who noted that Johnson could be part of a “First Take” rotation.

Jalen Rose, Jay Williams and Adrian Wojnarowski all contributed to “NBA Countdown” last season. It is unclear how Smith’s desires could influence their roles on the show. The network has not yet commented on the future of “First Take” or its NBA coverage.

Johnson, a five-time NBA champion with the Lakers and a Basketball Hall of Famer, served as an ESPN studio analyst from 2008-13 before becoming Los Angeles’ president of basketball operations. He abruptly resigned from the position in 2019.

Wilbon has co-hosted ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony Kornheiser since 2001 and regularly contributed to NBA broadcasts. He most recently appeared on the late-night editions of “SportsCenter” alongside Smith during the 2021 NBA playoffs.

The NBA “has been hesitant” about having Smith on pregame shows for the NBA Finals, according to Marchand, because the league believes his style is “too opinionated” and doesn’t strike “the right tone.” But Smith has never held more influence at ESPN than he does right now, as the 53-year-old is raking in a whopping $12 million per year and could be considered the face of the company.

This latest report comes amid major changes to ESPN’s NBA coverage. “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” has a hosting vacancy to fill after Maria Taylor left for NBC Sports and Rachel Nichols was removed from all NBA programming. The network also canceled Nichols’ daily show, “The Jump.”

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