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‘First Take’ Had Stephen A. Smith And Mad Dog Yell At Each Other About Steph Curry’s Legacy

ESPN decided to try something a little different in its never-ending quest to find the best possible foil for Stephen A. Smith on First Take, enlisting the services of longtime radio and television hollerer (not a word but it applies here) Chris “Mad Dog” Russo one day a week. Mad Dog is a decorated veteran in the “yelling at others about sports” genre of entertainment, and is, in theory, the perfect person to go 12 rounds in a heavyweight bout with Smith.

It’s only been a few weeks, but so far, the duo have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Our latest example of this came on Wednesday morning, when the pair were given a pretty general debate topic on the heels of the Golden State Warriors’ 129-114 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night — “Does Steph Curry have more to prove this season?” — and it turned into pure television gold.

“To me, he does,” Russo said.

“WHAT?” Smith asked with a tone of voice that appeared to mix disgust and intrigue about the road he was about to travel.

Russo then made his case for why he believes that Curry is not one of the 10-best players in NBA history — it more or less revolves around the championships Curry won, how he wasn’t the MVP in 2015 (while also noting injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving really hurt the Cleveland Cavaliers), and how Kevin Durant got them over the top in the other two.

“He’s fun to watch, he’s a wonderful shooter, unbelievable ball-handler, we all know he’s an all-time great,” Russo said. “But immortality is what I’m talking about, and right now, in my eyes, as a sports fan, when you tell me 30 years from now, ‘Well, is Stephen Curry an immortal?’ I look at championships, the big spots, and I say no.”

Smith responded with the same level of disgust that a person usually saves for when, like, their electric bill is way higher than they expected. The pair engage in the sort of parley that is only possible when two masters of a very specific craft go head-to-head before Mad Dog puts his foot on the gas.

“Let’s go through ’em!” he screams in an attempt to establish that Smith, in a First Take rarity, is not defining the terms of engagement in this particular battle.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” Smith says with the understanding that this is his show, and that someone is attempting to come onto it with an eye on defeating him. “We got MJ, we got LeBron…”

“I DO THE ASKIN’,” Russo interjects. “I’LL DO THE ASKIN’.”

Smith cedes ground, at which point Russo begins flying through names. In a series you need to win for your life, he proposes, would you take Curry or Larry Bird?

“Don’t even GO THERE!” he screams as Smith takes a moment to ponder. “Don’t even go there!”

After laughing and composing himself, Smith admits that he is not able to “go against a healthy Larry Bird.” Magic Johnson? Well, Smith tried to define the debate on his terms — Johnson is the greatest point guard, while Curry is the greatest shooter. But as Russo has made abundantly clear, we are in his world now.


Smith once again concedes that, yes, Russo has bested him. The conversation turns to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — this one is quick, as Smith says “of course” he’d take Abdul-Jabbar.

And then, we reach the apex of this conversation.

“You want [Bill] Russell, or you want Curry?” Russo asks, perhaps unaware of how things are about to turn. Smith takes a moment or two to think, and if we have learned one thing amid all of this, it is that Russo only needs a shred of daylight to pounce.

“Aw, come on, he won 11 championships in 13 years!” Russo proclaims as a gigantic smile comes across his face.

What he perhaps didn’t expect was that Smith would, likewise, start smiling. After several rounds of getting tagged by haymakers, it stands to reason that Smith’s smile stems from a place of understanding how to dodge them and respond with a combination of his own.

“Wait a minute, he’s never averaged 18.5 points in his career,” Smith says as the smile on Russo’s face turns to shock.

“IT’S BILL. RUSSELL.” Russo screams.

“Listen, listen, listen, listen,” Smith says, his hands forming a “T” to signify a timeout. “Listen, he’s the ultimate champion. You see, he’s trying to get me to be disrespectful to the ultimate champion, I’m not gonna do that. What I’m saying to you is, Bill Russell never averaged more than 18.5 points per game in his career, but he was an elite rebounder and defender. My argument to you is, if you give me all the offense in the world, why am I worried about defense? I’m not worried about defense! So guess what, I might not do that! If you’re gonna ask the question that way, what do I need. That’s what I’m askin’!”

A back-and-forth engages as Russo explains that he had problems with his headset and he cannot hear what Smith just said, a claim that Smith dismisses entirely. Russo proceeds to wrap up his argument, saying Curry cannot be put ahead of Bird, Johnson, “the three centers,” Jordan, James, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant. It was at this point he unveiled one more trick buried up his sleeve.

“You want me to go to Nowitzki!?” Russo asked.

“YES!” a flabbergasted Smith responded. “Don’t go to Nowitzki and them! Don’t go to Nowitzki and them!

“But he does,” Smith continues, “have me on those veterans.” The segment then ends. It is unclear exactly why this debate played out this way, or why it was held on March 2, 2022, but I am very glad it did.