ESPN Dumps Stephen A., And I’ll Miss Him. Really.

Stephen A. Smith will be gone completely from ESPN at the end of the NBA playoffs.

Stephen A. Smith at Cavs Game

(S.A.S. enjoying being inside the ropes while he can)

THE BIG LEAD has the scoop:

Within the last month, a source says that ESPN and (Stephen A.) Smith went to the negotiating table and couldn’t reach an agreement. Apparently, ESPN’s offer was considerably lower than Smith’s previous contracts - which were multi-media faceted - and Smith passed. He was then offered the decision to work through the remainder of his contract, or walk away and still get paid, and a source says Smith decided to work.

99.9% of you probably had the same initial reax as me: Good riddance!

But after thinking about it, I was a little sad.

Will you miss Stephen A. Smith when he leaves ESPN?

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I guess it was inevitable the Smith was gone after the depature of the man who championed him, Mark Shapiro. Shapiro ran ESPN for a time before being hired by Redskins and Six Flags Owner Dan Snyder to run Snyder’s theme park business.

Six Flags has since run aground, much like Smith’s media career.

First, Smith was unceremoniously demoted at the PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER. He next quit the paper, banking instead on his ESPN career.

But once Shapiro left ESPN, Smith had lost his only major Bristol ally. After his Quite Frankly TV show tanked, and his ESPN radio show sagged in the ratings, ESPN banished S.A.S. to its NBA analysis desk. And even there Smith has been a dim bulb for Bristol, getting mocked by colleague Tim Legler and botching a breaking story on Chris Bosh.

So it was really no surprise that ESPN fired him couldn’t agree on a contract extension.

So, why will I miss Smith? Who doesn’t yearn for an on-air trainwreck occasionally? His overblown, substance-lacking style is the same reason I’m oddly drawn to late night informercials.

I’m being serious.

How else am I supposed to amuse myself watching ESPN when Scott Van Pelt and Doug Gottlieb and Brian Kenny aren’t on?

I can understand why ESPN let Smith go, as he was putrid on the air all along, but much like Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, he lended an unintentional comedic element to the programming that I think was harmless and fun.

With the Smith oustier, it really is starting to appear like ESPN doesn’t want any air talent to have a discernible personality. And the irony is, THAT’S WHAT MADE IT SO POPULAR IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Remember Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick? Stu Scott and Rich Eisen? Craig Kilborn? Kenny Mayne? I’m sorry, but that was the golden age of SportsCenter and ESPN. Now the SC desk often resembles a CPAC cocktail party - with Hannah Storm a cigarette girl.

I heard from a source recently that ESPN is hiring for its afternoon radio show at KSPN-AM in Los Angeles.  The source told me that there was a local L.A. host that Bristol wanted to hire. The guy, who is the buttoned-down type, is very popular in L.A. and met several times with ESPN execs. But when he wouldn’t kowtow to Bristol’s every demand, the ESPN suits balked.

In other words, no matter how talented you are, if you bring an ego to the table, don’t bother with a gig with ESPN.

In the entertainment business, you can’t operate that way. But if you’re a monopoly in the media biz, you can. Newspapers proved that for a century. Because many markets had only one or two papers, they could print anything and people would buy it. ESPN is in the same situation now. In its defense, it doesn’t benefit anymore from taking chances.

And that’s why I don’t watch much these days.

I fear now for Smith’s future. Patrick was able to land on his feet with a plush radio gig that was backstopped by a free money deal with SI.com.

But Smith? Uh, I don’t think so.

I hope he has Billy Mays # on his Blackberry!

UPDATE: DEADSPIN commenter Quake ‘n’ Shake has a stellar idea for a S.A.S. soft landing:

I think he should do a sitcom. A “reverse” Three’s Company of sorts. Stephen A., Scoop Jackson and Jamelle Hill live in an apartment. Jason Whitlock would be their snoopy landlord. I’m still working on who should play Whitlock’s oversexed wife.