ESPN's Stephen A. Smith joined Mut & Merloni Tuesday to discuss the upcoming NBA season and the controversy that has surrounded him since uttering what sounded like a racial slur last week on ESPN's "First Take."
While discussing Kobe Bryant's status for the Lakers' season opener against the Mavericks last week, Smith said what sounded like, "Kobe Bryant is going to miss it because 'My foot is sprained?' Are y'all crazy? [Expletive] please." Smith denied using the slur, though he said that if ESPN had decided to suspend him for the incident, he would have accepted it.
"I would not have faulted them one bit whatsoever because we live in a business where perception is reality," Smith said.
Here is Smith's complete answer to Lou Merloni asking about the reaction to the incident:
"Well first of all, I totally understand the reaction. Secondly, I categorically deny that I said it, but please understand that those who think I did are not alone. I have four older sisters. I have my mother, OK, and three of them thought I said it and two did not. I understand it, and there's a level of heat that comes along with that because of the position that I'm in.
"The fact of the matter is that if you're on the airwaves, you have no business articulating such a word, but I think people need to remember one thing about me, and it's very, very simple: If I thought said it, I'd admit it. I'd have no qualms about that. If I ended up getting suspended by ESPN, I would have had no problem with that, even though I sit here and emphatically tell you that I did not say that.
"Please understand something about me: If ESPN had said, 'Well listen, it sounds like you said it, and as a result we feel we have to take this position and we're going to suspend you,' I would have shook their hands, I would have said 'I totally understand that the image of the brand is far more important than that of Stephen A. Smith and that's because these are your airwaves.' It's that simple to me.
"Now, I'm not going to get into the fact that what I heard when they replayed it for me is entirely different what I hear from these links that are posted online. It seems to me some doctoring is going on. That's neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is I've got to speak slower, I have to make sure that I articulate my words clearly, and I do understand because some of my family members said they thought I said it, so I get the fact that the public feels that way.
"All I'm asking the public to understand is that I don't run from being who I am. I don't run from the things that I say and the things that I do. I'm not flawless, I'm not perfect, I'm not infallible, but the one thing I can promise you is this: If I thought I said it, or even because the public by and large thinks I said it, and ESPN came to me and said to me, 'We need to make sure there are repercussions here and we're going to suspend you,' I would not have faulted them one bit whatsoever because we live in a business where perception is reality, and I have to own that perception, so whether it's you or anybody else who thinks that I said it, I'm going to tell you I didn't, but please know that I have absolutely positively no problem with you saying, 'Well I think I heard differently' and acting accordingly. It does not bother me at all.
"I've got to make sure I don't come close to even hinting that something like that could happen again. If I do, I'm going to pay the price for it, and that's what comes with the territory. That's big-boy rules. It's what grown men do, and last time I checked, I stopped being a little boy a long time ago."
Asked what he actually did say, Smith replied, "I don't even remember."
Smith also discussed the Celtics, Heat and the rest of the major contenders in the NBA. For more on that, check the Green Street blog shortly.
For complete NBA coverage, visit weei.com/celtics .