Stephen A. Smith Had One of the Great Moments in Process History
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For the first time in recent memory, #SixersJanuary feels more like actual January. The team has lost three games in a row for the first time this season, Joel Embiid is out with a mysterious knee injury until question mark, Paul Reed is getting benched for Marcus Morris or Mo Bamba every time he tries to play a drum fill and we're moving from Smiling Tyrese to Pissed Off Tyrese to Just Kinda Sad Tyrese much faster than I'm altogether comfortable with. It's been a real low end in what had to this point been a season mostly filled with highs, and there's no shortage of things to talk about in the discussion of why the Sixers appear to be crumbling.
But I don't want to talk about any of that right now (or maybe ever). Right now I'd rather talk about Stephen A. Smith.
Stephen A. Smith is also in the news this week, as you might have heard. Just a week after Katt Williams ensured that even your family dentist was suddenly aware of Club Shay Shay as a media platform, SAS delivered the second-most-virally-explosive diatribe of the young year. Unlike Williams' scorched-earth screed, which was wide-ranging and largely indiscriminate in its bullet-spraying, Stephen A's aim was squarely at one target: Jason Whitlock, a figure so roundly and universally dislikeable he makes Aaron Rodgers look sympathetic. Not the greatest diss-track challenge for a master on the microphone, of course, but there was still something obviously satisfying in watching him dismantle Whitlock, like the '92 Dream Team going up 65 on Angola or what have you.
Still, it mostly just made me want to watch my favorite Stephen A. Smith moment, and a moment I truly believe to be one of the most brilliant flashbulb moments of the entire Process era: his A Dog Is in the House speech from five seasons ago. It came, of course, after the November 2018 trade that sent Robert Covington and Dario Saric to Minnesota for Jimmy Butler. Tougher to remember now when he's already captained two finals runs in Miami, but Butler was fairly controversial both as a player and a trade target at the time: He had never really won anything, he was frequently hurt and he had just blown up the Timberwolves from within. A lot of people had mixed feelings about the trade, even most of the ones who ultimately concluded that it was a deal the Sixers ultimately had to make.
But not Stephen A. No, Stephen A. reacted to the trade like the Sixers had just dealt Darrall Imhoff and Archie Clark for Wilt Chamberlain, with a breathless 80-second rave about the possibilities of Jimothy in Philadelphia that was too raw and off the cuff for any of the dozens of ESPN properties Smith could have performed it on. Rather, he filmed it on his own phone -- while bouncing around his exercise room, as if he'd just been lifting for 45 minutes and still had too much energy than he knew what to do with -- and uploaded it to his own IG, like a rapper who posts an unlicensed SoundCloud freestyle that he could never get away with hosting on proper streaming services.
Five years later, and I can still recite most of it from memory. The Greek Freak in Milwaukee? WE'LL SEE, WELL SEE. Toronto with Kawhi Leonard? WE'LL SEE, WE'LL SEE. The excitement of it is so electric and contagious that I tend to watch it at least once at the beginning of every major Sixers playoff run to get me properly primed for the journey ahead. Most of were are too wracked with residual Sixers trauma by that point to even remember getting so unequivocally fucking PUMPED for anything Process-related -- maybe it took someone like Stephen A, who's been more of an interloper in Philly sports for the past 15 years since leaving the Inquirer, to still be so unreserved in his enthusiasm.
The whole thing has that kind of purity of essence to it. It's not nearly as inspired in its dynamics as the Whitlock rant, which sees SAS switching up tone, meter, pacing, rhythm and (most importantly) volume throughout -- the Dog rave knows only one speed and decibel level, until its very closing seconds. If Stephen A. Smith is the Eddie Van Halen of sports pundits -- and he is, somewhat definitively -- then the Whitlock rant is his "Jump," his spellbinding and pitch-perfect balancing of technical virtuosity with populist craft. But the Dog rave is his "Eruption": Just a minute-plus of absolutely blinding HOLY SHIT HOW IS HE DOING THIS stunting, a master at work letting you know in no uncertain terms that no one else can do the shit that he do. It may not be his most enduring contribution to pop culture, but it's the first thing you play for someone to make sure they know what's up.
Yet as much as it still makes me want to dunk from the Wells Fargo Center rafters, there is something a little bit sadder about watching it in 2024. Of course, that's partly due to knowing what we know now about the Butler-era Sixers: how close we came with that configuration the first time around and how immediately untenable it would prove immediately after. (Not to mention how Simmons being "a jump shot away from being a champion" ended up being kind of a moot point.) But it's a specific SAS quote that haunts me: "There's no excuse now." It was in reference to Embiid wanting to win the MVP -- which he'd ultimately do, although not for another four seasons still -- but it just reminds me how many times we've said that exact phrase over the past six years, and how even in the times where it was undeniably true, we'd ultimately end up needing to make excuses anyway. It reminds me how little has ultimately changed in the five seasons since.
But the A Dog Is in the House rave is ultimately about more than those (or these) Philadelphia 76ers, anyway. It's about the .5 seconds where something big and seemingly good happens for your team, and before you think about all the potential downsides, the things that could go wrong, what John Hollinger and Kevin Pelton are going to say about it, all your body really knows how to do is to reflexively start crotch-chopping. It's an absolutely beautiful moment that's equal parts effortless dunk and sick guitar solo. And no matter what's actually going on with the team at the time, whenever you put it in, for the next 80 seconds it's unquestionably #SixersJanuary.