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Kenny Smith defends Sabrina Ionescu comments: ‘I was advocating for her’

Kenny Smith defends Sabrina Ionescu comments: ‘I was advocating for her’

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

In response to a torrent of criticism over his comments about Sabrina Ionescu during her three-point shooting showdown with Stephen Curry, Kenny Smith said the furor was “much ado about nothing.”

Speaking Monday on “The Stephen A. Smith Show,” Smith said his remarks during Saturday’s contest at the NBA’s All-Star Weekend were meant to be supportive of Ionescu, and he suggested that many of his critics lacked a sufficient grasp of how basketball players practice their craft.

A longtime analyst for TNT who spent 10 years in the NBA, Smith was part of the broadcasting crew for the NBA’s all-star extravaganza. The NBA-vs.-WNBA dynamic of the contest between Curry, a Golden State Warriors guard considered by many to be the greatest shooter ever, and Ionescu, who stars for the New York Liberty, was a new addition to the proceedings.

Their riveting competition, which saw her score as many points as any NBA player did during Saturday’s traditional three-point contest, only to be narrowly edged by a trademark show of precision from Curry, was widely praised as the most compelling part of All-Star Weekend.

Stephen Curry, Sabrina Ionescu steal the show on NBA All-Star Saturday

However, some viewers found their experience of watching the competition marred by Smith’s commentary as Curry and Ionescu embraced after it ended.

“She should have shot from the women’s line,” Smith said, referring to the fact that the three-point line used in the WNBA is more than 1½ feet closer to the basket than the one used in the NBA, as measured at their furthest points.

“That would have been a fair contest,” Smith added. “I still root for Sabrina, I still root for Sabrina. She should have shot from the three-point line that the women shoot from.”

When fellow analyst and former NBA player Reggie Miller took issue during Saturday’s telecast with Smith’s comments, accusing the latter of putting “boundaries” on Ionescu, Smith doubled down.

“That’s not a boundary — that’s what the game is. They have a smaller ball, don’t they?” Smith said. “The WNBA ball is smaller, so she should have shot from their line. There’s a women’s tee in golf and there’s a men’s tee — for a reason.”

Some found Smith’s comments to be tone-deaf, at the least, while others found them condescending or sexist.

“Sabrina hitting the exact score that [Damian Lillard] won with, losing to Steph, and the immediate commentary being ‘welp, she should’ve shot from the women’s line’ pretty much sums up our experience if ya’ll are wondering,” wrote Brittni Donaldson, an assistant coach for the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith, 58, said Monday that “most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about.”

“Actually, I was advocating for her more than anything else,” Smith continued, “because basketball is muscle memory. So he practices from one range, she practices from another.”

Because Ionescu was shooting from a three-point line further than the one she is used to in the WNBA, Smith said, Curry was competing with “an advantage.” He also indicated that at least some of his commentary was made “in jest.”

“My history and track record speaks for itself,” said Smith, a regular member of an NBA-focused studio show on TNT that has gained enormous popularity among basketball fans for its lighthearted, conversational approach.

The original setup for the contest called for Ionescu to shoot from the WNBA’s line, but she overruled those plans and said late last month, “I’ll shoot from the NBA line.”

A 26-year-old who was the first pick in the 2020 WNBA draft after a stellar career at Oregon, Ionescu told CBS Sports recently that she regularly practices shooting from the NBA’s three-point distance to become “a better shooter,” so choosing it for Saturday’s competition was “a no-brainer.”

After going toe-to-toe with Curry, a four-time NBA champion who has led the league in three-pointers eight times, Ionescu said Saturday: “I think a night like tonight shows a lot of young girls and young boys that if you can shoot, you can shoot.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy,” she continued, “I think it just matters the heart that you have in wanting to be the best that you can be.”

NBA All-Star Game produces a record score in a forgettable blowout

Curry, nearly 10 years older than his counterpart, expressed similar sentiments after praising Ionescu as “unbelievable to watch.”

“I don’t know what’s going to come out of it, but me and Sabrina talked about how cool of an opportunity it is to do something that’s never been done before in our game,” Curry said. “And for her to have a presence on this stage is going to do a lot to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls that want to compete and see themselves in either one of us. Wherever it goes from there, we know we can kind of plant our flag as doing something really special.”



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