Sekou Smith, Award-Winning N.B.A. Reporter and Analyst, Dies at 48

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

For much of his journalism career, you would never see Sekou Smith in a sport coat. Not at the N.B.A. games he covered, not in the newsroom.

“Wearing a tie? No, never happened. Wearing a suit? Oh, you can forget about it,” said Arthur Triche, who used to work in public relations for the Atlanta Hawks and regarded Mr. Smith as his best friend.

That was until Mr. Smith started working as a multimedia reporter and analyst for NBA TV and NBA.com in 2009, when he became “the fashionista,” Mr. Triche said.

Mr. Smith’s bold clothing choices matched his reporting style: authentic, fair and unafraid, said Michael Lee, a sports reporter for The Washington Post who met Mr. Smith almost 22 years ago. While he was tough on teams, they knew it was always merited, Mr. Lee said.

“He can make enemies his friends,” he said.

Mr. Smith died of complications of the coronavirus on Jan. 26 at a hospital in Marietta, Ga., where his family lives, according to Mr. Triche and Ayanna Smith, one of Mr. Smith’s sisters. He was 48.

Sekou Kimathi Sinclair Smith was born on May 15, 1972, in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Estelle Louise Smith, an information technology specialist, and Walter Alexander Smith, who was a teacher and a school principal. His parents were often present at Mr. Smith’s sporting events, of which there were many: He played basketball, tennis, soccer and football and wrestled.

Ayanna Smith said Sekou had especially liked riding his bike up and down Auburn Avenue, the street where they lived as children and a continuing reference point for their family’s group text messages in more recent years.

“We were the ‘307 Auburn’ chat,” Ms. Smith said. “Every morning, whether it was Dad or Sekou or one of my brothers and sisters, one of us would text in there about the weather or whatever was going on.”

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Mr. Smith began his journalism career in 1994 as a part-time sports clerk at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., while he was a student at Jackson State University. After graduating in 1997, he continued at the paper as a reporter until he moved to Indianapolis to cover the Pacers in 2001 for The Indianapolis Star. He joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to cover the Hawks in 2005, after Mr. Triche urged him to apply.

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    Along the way, Mr. Smith bonded with many writers, especially those who had also attended historically Black colleges and universities, including Mr. Lee and Marc Spears, an N.B.A. writer for the ESPN website The Undefeated who befriended Mr. Smith about 20 years ago while covering the Nuggets for The Denver Post. Mr. Smith’s gentle smack talk and humor charmed his friends.

    “He could’ve been a comedian on the side if he wanted to,” Mr. Spears said in a statement to The Times. “He was quick-witted with hilarious one-liners just like the late comedian Robin Harris.”

    In 2009, Mr. Smith was hired by Turner Sports, which hosts NBA TV, as a senior on-air analyst and as a writer for NBA.com. He wrote a weekly column, The MVP Ladder, and began the N.B.A. “Hang Time” blog and podcast, in which he interviewed players, reporters and coaches.

    Along with his sister Ayanna, Mr. Smith is survived by his wife, Heather Pulliam; his sons Gabriel and Cameron; a daughter, Rielly; his father; his sisters Charmel Mack and Misti Stanton; and his brother, Eric.

    Mr. Smith had a knack for thought-provoking commentary, like when he engaged Mr. Lee and Mr. Spears in a discussion about mortality on his podcast after the death of Kobe Bryant last year.

    “Certain things in this life are simply not guaranteed,” he said during the episode, “and to have another day to be able to talk about it, to be able to share like that, that’s what makes this enjoyable for me.”

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