TNT basketball analyst Kenny Smith, 55, a former NBA player himself, explained on TODAY Friday why he walked off the set of "Inside the NBA" in the middle of the show on the same night that the NBA teams scheduled to participate in the playoffs decided not to take the court.
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
"It wasn't anything preplanned," he told Craig Melvin. "I hadn't talked to talk to any players. I was sitting there and I thought today, that day, I didn't want to be part of what I call a talking head, so to speak. I wanted to join the march.
"Sometimes I think in life you have to join the march, and that was my statement of joining the march."
Smith was on the set with host Ernie Johnson and NBA Hall of Famers Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal when he announced he was leaving.
"As a Black man, as a former player, I think it's best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight," he said on the broadcast.
The decision by NBA players on Wednesday spread across the sports world, as athletes elected not to play in order to bring attention to the protests in the wake of Blake's shooting. Blake has been left partially paralyzed, his father said.
Athletes and teams across Major League Baseball, the WNBA, the NHL, the NFL, college football and professional tennis all elected not to play in the days following the stand taken by the NBA players. The NBA players have since announced that they will resume the playoffs in the bubble in Orlando, Florida, on either Friday or Saturday.
"I think getting people's attention is first — showing the power the players have is very important," Smith said. "They did that. I remember growing up there was the phrase of the war on drugs, where it was the eradication of production and consumption and distribution of drugs. This is the same thing in terms of racism. The eradication of production and consumption of racism."
The move by the NBA players caused President Donald Trump to say the league had "become like a political organization" and that it was not "a good thing for sports or the country."
"We are Black Americans first, we are sports figures second," Smith said. "Anyone who is part of this, it's not a political group. We all have a voice, and sometimes as a unit, our voice can be loud. I think it should be paid attention to, not about what is missing, but why do you feel that way?"
Smith, who is a father of five, said he was gratified by a phone call to his 12-year-old son, Malloy, after he walked off the TNT set.
"I called him on FaceTime and all I saw was a big grin, and before I said anything he's just applauding," Smith said. "And I was like 'Whoa.' That was probably the biggest feeling and the best feeling, that he understood why I did it without even me saying anything.
"I have to practice what I preach, inclusion, all of the great things that we talk about, and I was just excited that he was able to understand that, and it starts at home."
Smith has previously expressed his support for NBA players using their platform to shine a light on racial justice issues, including players kneeling before the national anthem in July when the NBA resumed play after being on hiatus during the pandemic.
“I think the players are doing a great job of still bringing awareness to issues because a lot of them, they can’t initiate them,” Smith said on TODAY last month.