Here at coiski, we’re using the February, Black History Month, to put the spotlight on prominent African American content creators in media through a couple of ways; our #BHM4BHM (Black Hands in Media for Black History Month) campaign on Twitter is currently highlighting one African American content creator – living or dead – each day and today, we’re also kicking off our 4-part interview series of African American content creators who are doing amazing work in all forms of media.
Today, we catch up with NBA Digital Senior Analyst Sekou Smith to discuss race, relationships and rapport in media. Smith also shared a rather intriguing observation he experienced while covering the Indiana Pacers.
George Kiel: As a kid, what was your first encounter with media in general?
Sekou Smith: When I was a kid, my dad and his brothers had their own bookstore in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my Uncle Carl had his own black newspaper called The Organizer, which he ran out of a house back in the 80s. Me, my brothers and my cousins used to be his delivery boys. We delivered his newspaper by going in various neighborhoods and putting it on cars and on peoples’ doors, and the only reason I did it is because he would take us to McDonald’s afterwards. So it wasn’t like I was some aspiring journalists at six years old. It was good training, though, because I got comfortable with newspapers and what they represented at an early age.
Kiel: Was there a specific content creator that peaked your interest back then?
Smith: One of my dad and his brother’s favorite guys was Ralph Wiley, and he was the first guy that I encountered in regards to newspaper voices. He was the first guy that I really connected with through newspapers, and he was also on TV, he wrote books and more. He was really a multimedia specialist before we knew that was going to be the phrase to describe it. So he was the guy that kind of stuck out to me, and I kind of gravitated towards him. And I don’t think it was a coincidence that he was African American. He spoke to issues from a perspective that I could really relate to.
Kiel: What was your first encounter with race in your field of work?
Smith: When I got to Indiana, Reggie Miller, of course, was the face of the franchise. So what really knocked me off my seat during my first couple of games was Indiana’s love for a Austin Croshere, who is a great guy and a solid player. He would receive a louder ovation at home games than Reggie. You look around the arena, and you’d be blind not to notice the makeup of the color of people in the arena. It was a predominately white crowd – and I’m not knocking that at all. It just is what it is. I just always found that interesting – a person that’s not Indy’s best player by any means, getting more love than Reggie, arguably the face of that franchise still to this day. When I came to Atlanta, the difference in makeup was really the crowd. It was a much more diverse crowd, not nearly as crowded because Indiana was a 60-win team when I left and Atlanta was a 13-win team when I arrived. The makeup of the arena was a microcosm of the community. In Indy, it was static, and in Atlanta it was very a diverse crowd of all different ethnic and racial groups. It was a much different look from where we were sitting on the floor by just scanning the crowd with your eyeballs.
Kiel: Do you think race has any factor – comfort-wise – with the relationships you’ve built over the years with certain players?
Smith: In my experience, it has always been about familiarity. If players know you and you have a relationship that’s been built up on trust, they don’t care what color you are. If they know what they’re saying isn’t going to be used in crazy ways, they don’t care. I have great relationships with players of all different colors and age groups. When I first started out, I was only a couple of years older than the guys I was covering, and now – after 20 plus years – I look at some of these players and realize that I was out of high school before they were born. But I still have great relationships with them. I learned to build relationships through watching other people in my field. The late Phil Jasner, who covered Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, had as good of a relationship with Iverson as anybody I had ever seen. I was like, ‘Wow, how can this old guy and A.I. have such a great rapport with the generational gap that existed between the two of them?’ It was because Iverson respected him, and he knew Phil was fair and vigilant about his job. It has to be a mutual respect between you and who you’re covering. The beauty of some of these sports teams-locker room relationships is that it has nothing to do with race or age. Instead, it has a lot to do with relationships.