Kenny Smith talked to Coach Popovich about joining Spurs before retiring

Kenny Smith (Photo by PAUL BUCK/AFP via Getty Images)
Kenny Smith (Photo by PAUL BUCK/AFP via Getty Images) /

The 1997-98 San Antonio Spurs were close to being even deeper in their record-setting bounce-back campaign. With Tim Duncan’s signing that season and Gregg Popovich’s self-promotion to head coach the year prior, San Antonio set what was then a record for the biggest turnaround in an NBA season.

With their 46-win improvement, the Spurs’ 44 percent change in win percentage has only since been eclipsed by Boston’s 51.2 percent in 2008. As it turns out, they were in talks to add a veteran two-time NBA champion to help their cause.

Kenny Smith explained his transition from player to broadcaster in episode one of the new HBO Max series, The Inside Story.

The San Antonio Spurs and Kenny Smith were in talks

“[I was having] a conversation with Gregg Popovich,” started Smith. Coincidentally, it was Coach Popovich’s good friend Craig Sager, who shared an office space with Kenny, that talked him into retiring. After overhearing Smith and Popovich’s talk, Sager questioned Smith.

“You’re thinking about going back and playing?” he said. “Yeah, I’ve got a little left in the tank,” replied Kenny. “Don’t you know you’re good at this? This could be your career,” said Sager.

Smith had been a regular guest on Ernie Johnson’s NBA on TNT, and he’d impressed everyone with his appearances. The 31-year-old was coming off being waived by the Orlando Magic and playing for a 21-win Denver Nuggets team before the upcoming season.

“I had never thought about it,” Smith said of being a full-time broadcaster. “I started asking him questions about a career in broadcasting.”

The rest, as we all know, is history. Kenny retired after the 1996-97 season after winning two titles with the Houston Rockets and averaged 12.8 points and 5.5 assists per game in his 10-year career.

It would’ve been interesting to see how the San Antonio Spurs would’ve utilized the 6-3 point guard, as they already had Avery Johnson leading the team. Smith likely would’ve come off the bench to give Johnson some rest instead of Monty Williams, Cory Alexander, or Reggie Geary.

At 35.7, Avery played the second-most minutes on the team. Still, the Spurs could’ve used Smith’s championship experience and 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc, especially considering they shot 24 percent from there in their series loss to the Jazz.

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Ultimately, the situation worked out for both sides, as the Spurs won the NBA title the following season while Kenny Smith has become a renowned broadcaster for over 20 years.