What Happened to Kenny Smith’s Legs? Unfolding the Sad Truth Behind TNT Host’s Dodgy Knees

Published 04/22/2024, 2:35 PM EDT

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The NBA world has caught glimpses of Kenny “The Jet”  Smith’s inverted knees. Though his skills, sports knowledge, and commentary have kept the audience entertained, there are some harsh setbacks that he had to overcome as a child. Did he choose to be a “lamb or a tiger?” Hidden behind the glamour of his NBA career and his hosting position on TNT’s “Inside Basketball” is a story of patience in the face of odds.

Only a few people know what lies behind Kenny Smith’s problematic knees. The 2x NBA champ revealed the tragic incident in his memoir, “Talk of Champions: Stories of the People Who Made Me.”

The subway steps that turned Kenny Smith’s fate


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In 1981 when Kenny was in 11th grade, studying at Queens, New York’s Archbishop Molloy, was playing with his best friends and teammates, George Kingland and Chris Sterling, and racing to the Main Street subway station after school. As they entered they heard the train pull into the station, so they hurried and dropped off their tickets and slit into the train before the doors closed. Trying to catch their breath after the thrilling race, they collapsed into the seats and that’s when they heard a terrifying pop and crackle. This meant something had gone seriously wrong.

His aspirations to compete at the top tiers of the NBA were put in question when his developing plate broke off. Recalling this incident on his memoir, Smith said, “It sounded like I’d sat on a bag of potato chips. My first thought was to look behind me to see if there was indeed something on the seat, so I tried to stand. I couldn’t. My knee had gone extremely wrong, and I couldn’t even straighten my leg. By the end of the day, I learned that my growth plate had broken off and was dislodged inside the joint of my knee. The doctors said surgery was necessary, and just like that all my dreams fell into serious jeopardy. Playing on national television, advancing to college and the NBA—it was all endangered.

The news was dismal. Smith required surgery, which would put his hopes of performing on national television, going to college, and eventually joining the NBA in danger. Still, Smith’s drive emerged during this difficult time, supported by his family’s constant love and support.

Healing obstacles: Kenny Smith’s recovery commences


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After the surgical procedure, Kenny Smith had a long road ahead of him for recovery. But with the advice of his father, “This injury can stop you and you can become a lamb,” he continued, “Or you may put in a lot of effort to become a tiger”—Smith made the tenacious decision. Smith, determined to overcome the chances against him, started hard therapy sessions with his father and brother Vince.

Smith’s commitment and work ethic paid off. Even if there was first some doubt about his basketball career, it worked. In 6X months, he not only overcame his injury but also changed his style of play, drawing interest from college evaluators around the nation.

The role of Michael Jordan in Smith’s professional journey


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A crucial time at the University of North Carolina awaited Smith as he made his difficult decision about where to take his basketball career next. After becoming teammates with Michael Jordan, the future NBA icon, Smith was captivated by his friend’s fierce spirit of competition.

Jordan said in a flash of insight, “You got that eye. That eye like I have. It’s the eye of the tiger”, this struck a chord with Smith, reinforcing his will to strive for success in the challenges he faced. Smith set out on a life-changing adventure that would mold his playing days. Thus, from Queens’ subway stairs to the NBA’s sacred courts, Smith’s route is an illustration that anything is achievable with drive.


Written by:

Arya Patil


One take at a time

Arya is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. She skillfully combines her academic acumen with a passion for the game that she developed over years of watching the ups and downs of the NBA. Arya is a seasoned journalist who provides fans with a detailed look at the league's inner workings.
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