“The crowds were like Thunder crowds,” he says. “It doesn't surprise me what happened once the team came here. But it surprises me that the team is here. ... I got to thank Clay Bennett and his group. I know a lot of people think they stole the team from Seattle. But the team was failing in Seattle. They built it the right way. The rise was so meteoric and quick.”
Smith says Bayless' love for Oklahoma City is readily apparent, but it's not going to affect his picks.
“He loves this city. He loves this state. He talks about it all the time,” Smith says. “But we're a lot alike in that regard, it has nothing to do with his picks. It has nothing to do with our decisions. We watch what we watch. And we're going to make a call. The No. 1 thing that we concern ourselves with is being very, very authentic.”
If the Finals return to Oklahoma City for Game 6, Bayless said he would like to organize a field trip for some media members to view different areas of the metro. He says media members get a distorted view of the city by only driving from the airport to downtown.
Bayless says he might even consider moving back here someday, although he thinks it would be difficult to convince his fiance, New York City public relations executive Ernestine Sclafani, to make the move.
“She thinks the world begins and ends on the edges of Manhattan. And my heart and soul is here. I don't know if I could ever convince her. She likes it here OK, but she came thinking it was covered with wagons and cowboys.”
Although Smith and Bayless appear irritated at each other during their verbal sparring on “First Take,” after the cameras shut off, they say they are close friends.
“We came from opposite ends of the earth, but he's my brother,” Bayless says. “I would go down fighting for him. I have his back. But we go at it. The beauty of going at it is that we don't go over the edge. He can't make me mad. He can frustrate me and irritate me and he can bring me out of my chair, but he can't make me truly take-it-home mad. When we go to break, it's over.”
Smith, 44, who was raised in New York City, says, “I do believe the Skip Bayless that I've known for years is an incredibly good guy, incredibly sensitive. Takes his word very, very seriously. No one is more prepared to do their job. If you want to debate him, you better come ready. He's no joke.”
However, Smith loves to kid Bayless by calling him “the joker.”
“No. 1, he looks like him. No. 2, he's really, really slick and conniving when it comes to his debates. He'll set you up. Skip will say something and ‘Oh, you're trying to say ...' He'll put words in your mouth. He'll twist them. Like I said, you got to be prepared. You slip up in any way and he'll eat you for breakfast.”
The lively debate between the two has produced a big ratings jump for “First Take,” and this month Smith was added on a full-time basis.