In 1994 and 1995, Kenny "The Jet" Smith won back-to-back
Championships playing for the Houston Rockets. Since retiring, he can be seen on the Emmy Award winning TNT show, Inside the NBA alongside Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. The program has turned from being just a show about basketball into its own phenomenon. YouTube is littered with clips and outtakes that have thousands if not millions of views. But it was when Smith's annual summer basketball camp for kids in North Carolina was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic that he came up with the idea for the Jet Academy (from his nickname).
During an interview on CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast, Smith explained how his online academy allows kids around the world to participate and to learn basketball skills from current NBA and WNBA players. One of the unseen advantages for the kids participating in the Jet Academy is the ability to video chat with their instructors.
"We're live! That's the differentiator. We're able to talk live to you. And you can interact with us," said an exuberant Smith. "You're able to ask questions while it's going on. You're able to upload videos. We critiqued about 170 videos last night. And we have kids from Taiwan. We have kids from Australia. We have kids from Las Vegas, North Carolina, Florida -- all over the world."
At the end of August, Smith made news when he walked off the set of Inside the NBA on air to show solidarity with NBA players protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake. My interview with Smith was recorded at the end of July. But something he said then about social justice issues and professional athletes rings just as true now.
During a discussion about restarting the NBA season, Smith addressed some people's worries that the restart could distract from the social issues and discussions about Black Lives Matter that were going on. He felt that those issues were too significant to be overshadowed by basketball.
"These social issues didn't start with any celebrity or any sports figure. I don't think they could distract it. They could enhance it," said Smith. "These issues are too big. They're too worldwide. And it needs to be heard. I don't think that anyone can stop this movement. I don't think any distraction or any game can make it stop."
Over the course of 25 minutes, we talked about how building the Jet Academy made Smith obsessed with livestreaming technology. We also discussed his two NBA championships; The Last Dance, about Michael Jordan; the quarantined NBA restart at Disney World, also called "The Bubble"; and, of course, what it's like working with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal on Inside The NBA.
Listen to my entire conversation with Smith on Spotify or Apple Podcasts. You can find out more information about the Jet Academy on its website. You can subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about work, career and current obsessions.