Journalism and COVID-19: Remembering Sekou Smith

This journalist profile is part of Journalism and COVID-19: The Toll of a Pandemic, PEN America’s project covering the toll of the coronavirus crisis on the journalism industry in the United States. Our hearts go out to the family members and friends of the journalists lost during the pandemic.

Sekou Smith headshot

Photo from Facebook

Name: Sekou Smith
Age: 48
Died: January 26, 2021
Location: Marietta, GA
Work History:1Tim Bontemps, “NBA reporter and analyst Sekou Smith dies at 48 due to COVID-19”, January 26, 2021; Gillian R. Brassil, “Sekou Smith, Award-Winning N.B.A. Reporter and Analyst, Dies at 48The New York Times, January 28, 2021; David R. Squires, “Sekou Smith was a treasure to everyone who knew him. I’m still stunned.Clarion Ledger, January 29, 2021; Wayne Sterling, “NBA reporter and analyst Sekou Smith dies of Covid-19” CNN, January 27, 2021.

  • NBA Reporter and Analyst, Turner Sports
    • Host, “NBA Hang Time” podcast
    • Creator and Author, Hang Time blog,
    • Columnist, “The MVP Ladder,”
    • Writer,
    • Senior Analyst, NBA TV
  • Atlanta Hawks Beat Writer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • Indiana Pacers Beat Writer, The Indianapolis Star
  • Sports Reporter, Clarion Ledger
  • Sports Clerk (part-time), Clarion Ledger
  • Intern, The Plain Dealer

Selected Remembrances:
“Sekou Smith was one of the first NABJ-ers to take me under his wing and make me feel like I belonged. He pushed to bring the best out of young reporters, was a fierce advocate of diversity in journalism — and did it with a smile on his face. A pro. Our friend. He is missed.”
—Malika Andrews, NBA Reporter, ESPN [Twitter]

“May we all be as kind, as talented, as hardworking, as in love with the game and the craft as much as Sekou Smith.”
—Mirin Fader, Staff Writer, The Ringer [Twitter]

“He’s an example of how representation matters. Seeing a Black man doing terrific work at the Indianapolis Star and then moving on to and NBA TV, it was inspirational for me because I was just beginning my journey. When I was hosting my radio show, he was always kind enough to come on, crack jokes and offer great insight on the game he loved.

“The loss is shocking, and I’m thankful that I was able to call him a friend. It means a lot, given the fact that he was one of the early guys in the industry I respected and looked up to. Amazing guy, incredibly smooth and insightful, gracious and accommodating.”
—Michael Grady, Brooklyn Nets Courtside Reporter, YES Network [The Indianapolis Star]

“Sekou had this way about him, a super rough exterior like he didn’t want to be bothered. But beyond the thinness of that exterior was a heart of gold. I used to tell him back then that he was the world’s ‘youngest grumpy old man.’ Sekou was funny, the best kind of funny. He had jokes. . . endless jokes. Observational jokes, jokes on you, jokes on himself. Self-deprecation at its finest. As I was being comforted in my grief after learning of his death, I was reminded jokes are my love language. And this man communicated as well as anyone through humor. I can hear his unique voice even now as I write this, whether it was complaining about Michigan’s waywardness on the football field or him asking me about my latest ‘dips.’ He loved his family dearly. That voice sure did take a turn when he spoke about his family. He was so proud of his kids. But that’s Sekou. . .

“We really do, in this and all industries, stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. So much effort goes in to keeping certain people down in this industry. Maybe that’s why there’s a sharper sting in knowing we’ve lost more than simply a great human. We’ve lost a pro’s pro who effortlessly tried to pull the next generation up to his level. And even if those of us pulled don’t get to his level of greatness on either count, we still need to recognize that Sekou was not just a role model for us, but a reminder that we all have a chance to play role model for someone else’s journey. Sekou Smith, you are loved and you will be missed. You will never be forgotten.”
—Marshall Harris, Sports Director, CBS Sacramento [CBS Sacramento]

“I knew a great guy. I knew somebody who made you feel better just by being in his presence. I knew somebody who had just an incredible sense of humor, who could shoot it to you straight, tell you like it is, somebody who you had to respect because you knew he was coming from a sincere, genuine place every time you spoke to him. . . And he just had this incredible ability to find common ground with any and everybody. Everyone would always feel the same way after they left. He had a gift. I don’t know if I even appreciated the gift until these last couple of days of reflection when he’s not around. He had this incredible ability to just navigate through a room and touch everybody—and just through his own unique way.

“It’s interesting, ’cause there had been so many tributes and tweets and comments about him and what kind of person he was and everyone talking about what a good heart he had, what a good spirit he had, but I also knew that this was a guy who’d cuss you out in a heartbeat. He had one of the sharpest tongues you could imagine. If you crossed him, you were going to feel it, you were going to hear it, he wasn’t going to back down. There was a way he just balanced everything and kept it all together, but you had to respect him. I’ve seen situations where he may have written an article about a player that upset him, a player would go off on him, he’d cuss him out right back—and by the end of the day, they’re best friends laughing and joking, like it never happened.

“And just the respect he was able to generate from people, from executives to the security guard or the woman that served food at a restaurant. It didn’t matter who you were, he treated you all the same. If you were Larry Bird or if you were just the guy who swept the floors, he’d talk to you in the same way, and you left feeling the same way about him. And that always impressed me when I was a young guy starting out covering the league. I started around the same time—I’d go in the locker room with him sometimes, and I’d just marvel at how he worked the room because of the way he would just talk stuff about guys’ shoes, he’d talk about their haircut, and I’m just like, ‘How are you able to just move through the locker room so breezy and just talk to these guys this way and just have this sort of rappeur with them?’ And it’s just him.”
—Michael Lee, Sports Enterprise Reporter, The Washington Post [“Edge of Sports Podcast”]

“Sekou Smith never gave anyone a greeting whenever he saw or met them. He gave them a title.

“‘What’s up, boss?’

“He genuinely meant every one of those three words, because he wanted to know the state of your life at that very moment (the good, not so good, whatever) and by assigning you the highest of designations, he purposely raised your status, spirit, and self-esteem in his presence.

“Is there any better way to express your humanity than to take an interest in a friend or co-worker or even a stranger, and instantly make them feel. . . wanted?”
—Shaun Powell, Writer, []

“The NBA mourns the passing of Sekou Smith, a beloved member of the NBA family. Sekou was one of the most affable and dedicated reporters in the NBA and a terrific friend to so many across the league. He covered the game for more than two decades, including the past 11 years with Turner Sports, where he showed his full range of skills as an engaging television analyst, podcast host and writer. Sekou’s love of basketball was clear to everyone who knew him and it always shined through in his work. Our heartfelt condolences go to his wife, Heather, and their children, Gabriel, Rielly and Cameron.”
—Adam Silver, Commissioner, National Basketball Association (NBA) []

“I think the term ‘gentle man’ fits him. He had a gentle spirit about himself. He had an unassuming spirit. . . Our show is basically the pinnacle of Turner basketball, and when people come into our fold, it feels like they always try to get noticed and like, ‘Oh ’cause we’re going to be sitting up with you guys.’ He was the first guy that I met that I had to keep going over to and say, ‘Hey man, what’s up? How you doing?’ He wasn’t in awe, wasn’t coming in here to impress anyone with accolades. He’s like, ‘I’m here to do my job, and if you come to speak to me over here today, Shaq, Kenny, Chuck, Ernie, it’s cool with me. If you don’t, it’s cool with me.’ And that is a unique quality. . . And I think that, to me, his gentle spirit—which I was most impressed with—and that said more than anything. . . about how he was as a journalist. [He] just followed through because he didn’t have to fake who he was. That’s who he was.”
—Kenny Smith, studio analyst at Turner Sports and former NBA point guard [NBA on TNT]

“I’ve never had anything but positive interactions and conversations with Sekou Smith. Our prayers go out to the Smith family. We lost a good one. Rest In Heaven.”
—Dwyane Wade, former shooting guard, Miami Heat [Twitter]

“Few members of the NBA family are held in higher regard than longtime reporter Sekou Smith. His podcast, his appearances on NBA TV, his weekly column read by millions all over the world, Smith was respected and loved by players, coaches, executives, fans, and journalists alike. What separated him from his peers was a profound sense of respect and approachability. One colleague noted he doggedly broke story after story after story because players trusted him to get it right—not just to get it first. Widely known as a mentor to young people trying to break into the business, Smith was unceasingly kind to everyone.”
—Nicole Wallace, Host, Deadline White House, MSNBC [Deadline White House]

Selected Work:
Kia MVP Ladder: LeBron James starts at the top as new chase begins”, January 8, 2021.

“No one would have blamed LeBron for easing into season No. 18 after an abbreviated offseason after leading the Lakers to the title in the Orlando bubble. But the old man (36 qualifies in the NBA) has been at his brilliantly consistent best in the early stages of this season. Even on a night when the Lakers saw their four-game win streak snapped by the San Antonio Spurs, LeBron’s performance (27 points, 12 assists and six rebounds, his third game this season with 20 or more points and 10 or more assists) shines. He’s set such a ridiculously high standard for himself and the rest of the crowd that follows on this list.”

Majority of the Minority with Candace Parker,” “NBA Hang Time” podcast, January 6, 2021.
Los Angeles Spark and NBA on TNT analyst Candace Parker joins Sekou Smith on the “NBA Hang Time” podcast to discuss the justice movement the WNBA is driving forward. Parker shares her thoughts on how Becky Hammon served as the first woman head coach for the San Antonio Spurs, how the WNBA is the “majority of the minority in this country,” and the evolution of the game.

An unapologetic Russell Westbrook is ready for new challenge with Wizards”, December 5, 2020.

“Russell Westbrook has been at this business of basketball long enough to know that authenticity rules.

“You can’t cheat yourself or the game.

“It just doesn’t work.

“So he’s bringing all the same things that have made him one of the league’s best and most mercurial talents over the course of his 12 seasons in the league to Washington.

“The non-stop intensity. The breathtaking plays, the breakneck speed and explosiveness. The snarl. The no-friends-in-other-uniforms mantra. The deep roots in the community and the off-court impact it produces. He packed it all.”

Clippers’ determination, defensive desire fuel Game 3 victory”, September 8, 2020.

“Maybe it’s the close quarters, eyeballing the competition up close and personal every day, on and off he court.

“Or perhaps it was the four-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic that stripped away all the trappings of the strangest NBA regular season on record.

“Whatever it is, it’s safe to say that there is absolutely no fear factor in these playoffs — at least not in the conference semifinals.”

Arena Link: Sekou Smith,” NBA GameTime Live, NBA TV, March 10, 2013.
Sekou Smith discusses the “Big Three” and the Miami Heat’s matchup against the Indiana Pacers.