The Strange State Of ESPN’s First Take

          There was once a time, a very glorious time, where sports fans all over would wake up excited to turn on their TVs and watch Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith go back and forth with each other over whatever recent sports development was going on. It was excellent sports television; the very best sports debate show you could watch. Actually, it was the quintessential sports debate show. You wouldn’t dare miss a moment of ESPN’s hit show, First Take. Skip and Stephen A. had great chemistry, and many moments from the show have been engrained into the pop culture lexicon through memes and viral rants the two have gone on. This golden age wouldn’t last long as Skip Bayless would leave in 2016 and be replaced with Max Kellerman. This would mark, in my eyes, the beginning of the decline of First Take.

            This is, by no means, me trying to imply that Skip leaving is what ruins First Take,or that Max Kellerman is who ruins it either. I actually believe that the show could’ve continued to be great, and it did for a while. The chemistry did kind of change though. Max was constantly berated by Stephen A. because he didn’t really care for his takes, particularly concerning basketball. To be fair, Max’s takes were normally… bad. I mean, one of the most popular First Take moments to come out of that era was Max choosing Andre Iguodala over Stephen Curry to take a shot to save the planet. The problem with this dynamic was that in the 5 years Max was on the other side of the table across from Stephen A., the dynamic never changed. Max’s takes got increasingly better as time went on, to a point where he started to become the one with the more competent and less-exaggerated takes compared to his co-star Stephen A.

            Stephen A. was always a fan favorite of the show; he was often the straight man to Skip Bayless’ often wild and scorching hot (and biased) takes. Add in the fact that Stephen A. is a natural entertainer. His mannerisms and overdramatic deliveries have delivered most of the sports meme we see across NBA twitter. It was a given that he’d be the favorite. However, somewhere down the line, Stephen A. changed. His takes become less and less reasonable and more exaggerated, more obviously biased. His manner of speaking became permanently loud and overdramatic. He became the angry yelling black man that the casually racist (and often misogynistic) ESPN comment sections would label him. After Skip left, I believe that Stephen A. started to see First Take as his show and himself as being the most important star. Can you blame him? He’s basically ESPN’s mascot at this point as the most recognizable (and highest paid) face in their lineup of sport analysts. The downside: that mindset might just be what is hurting the show. This year, Max Kellerman left the show, and it has since been in this weird limbo of random recurring guests debating against Stephen A.

            Now some people (including me) believe that the reason Max left the show was due to Stephen A.’s often disdain towards him. Of course, they both deny this, and I am not one to try to speculate this. It just seems as if Stephen A. didn’t really have the utmost respect for Max’s takes. But with Max gone, First Take has fully become a shell of its former self with Stephen A. morphing into less overtly-biased Skip Bayless. Ironically, it’s Skip’s show, Undisputed, the highly entertaining sports debate show he has with Shannon Sharp, that is now the sports debate show to watch. And rightfully so, as the two have great chemistry while still disagreeing and being overly dramatic.

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