Michael Smith gives two simple reasons he never imagined he'd be coaching in Friday night's NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.
First, he admits, "I can't hoop worth a damn."
And second, he doesn't consider himself a celebrity.
But he is one, quickly rising from an ambitious New Orleans kid with a passion for writing to a now 37-year-old television personality on ESPN appearing on TV screens in households all over the globe.
He serves as co-host with Jemele Hill on ESPN "SC6," the cable network's new show that launched just last week. Before that, the two were co-hosts on "His and Hers," making Smith a celebrity even though he doesn't see himself as one.
"It's humbling and flattering that people are willing to invest their most precious asset, which is time, and spend an hour watching me," Smith said. "I don't care about the celebrity part. I just like that people feel they can connect with me. I see myself as just a dude who loves sports and enjoys entertaining people."
This weekend, Smith gets to do a little of both. He'll co-anchor his show Friday before pacing the sideline in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome coaching the West squad in the Celebrity All-Star Game. It'll be a special time for Smith, getting a chance to coach just a few miles away from his childhood home in New Orleans East.
He doesn't get to come back to his hometown as much as he'd like because of a hectic work schedule. He's lived most of his adult life in the New England area, first working as a reporter for the Boston Globe before landing at ESPN.
"But I'm always a New Orleanean at heart," Smith said. "It shaped me. It raised me. The person I am, the way I conduct myself, the way I view a lot of things isn't just from how I was raised, but also how the village that is New Orleans raised me."
So this homecoming, much like his career, will be hectic for the former McDonogh 35 football player and Loyola University graduate. Smith, who is married with three children, will visit his family and friends. He plans to visit his old high school. And he wants to make sure he eats plenty while back in his hometown known for its food. And he has to try to somehow scrounge up enough tickets to fulfill all the requests.
"It's a balancing act, but I'm going to try my best to enjoy it," Smith said. "The focus and commitment is to help put on the best show possible. I can't let that take away from living in the moment. Every now and then you do have to kinda stop and smell the roses. I really just haven't been able to do that yet."
The past few months have been a whirlwind for Smith. He and Hill recorded the last episode of "His and Hers" in early January and quickly began planning for their new show. ESPN guaranteed the Smith and Hill three years in their new time slot with an option for a fourth, showing just how confident the network is in the duo.
Smith says the chemistry between him and Hill developed over time.
"Both of us are really driven people," he said. "We knew we had chemistry, but it took time for that chemistry to translate on air. And it wasn't about us just getting better, but for people to actually get us. It takes a level of open mindedness on the part of the viewer to listen to us because we don't discuss sports the same way as everybody else."
Smith and Hill oftencome across as just two people sitting in a barber shop chatting about sports. They often rib each other, appearing more like siblings than co-hosts. And in way, that's what they are, said Hill.
“Mike is my family," Hill said. "I know co-hosts on television shows don’t often say that about one another, but we were close friends before we ever became television partners and we’ll be close friends whenever we stop doing TV together. He’s a brilliant broadcaster, but he’s a better friend, father and husband. I know that sounds super corny, but I consider myself so blessed to work with someone that I respect and love so much."
You probably won't see that love Friday night though.
Smith and Hill will be on opposite sides of the court, much like they are often on the opposing sides of debates.
Smith's squad will have a hometown flavor, with local celebrities like Master P and Anthony Mackie on his roster. He says he expects to win.
"It's not so much that I want to win," Smith said. "I just don't want to lose. I won't trash talk if I win. But I know her. if I lose, she is never going to let me live it down."
It'll be one of the few times the two are trying to outdo each other. Smith and Hill both know that they are on this ride together.
"We've become joined at the hip and we take that serious," Smith said. "We know that both of our brands are rooted in each other. We pride ourselves in our individual abilities, but we'd be fooling ourselves to think that we aren't an item in the public eye. You think of one, you think of the other. So we have to make sure we hold up our end other bargain."
But this weekend, Smith plans to just relish his time back home where it all began.
"I haven't had a chance to sit back and say 'I made it,' " Smith said. "It's weird to say the words 'I made it' because you don't ever want to sit back and say the job is accomplished. You want to celebrate and appreciate what you've done, but at the same time I can't rest on my laurels because now the real work starts. ESPN isn't going to keep me in this position just to keep me in the position. So there are a lot of emotions coming back home, a lot of thoughts and reflection. I get to look back. But I'm looking forward as well."