For those of you who swore I'd fallen off the map and disappeared into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again, here's a news flash:
I never left. I haven't gone anywhere.
Any questions? Please, pay attention!
My name is Stephen A. Smith. Long before my days at ESPN, the Philadelphia Inquirer or the New York Daily News before that, I was a student at Thomas A. Edison Vocational and Technical High.
I am a native of Hollis, Queens, N.Y. A Knicks fan who grew up marveling at the basketball prowess of Queens natives Mark Jackson, Lloyd "Sweat Pea" Daniels, Kenny Smith and Kenny Anderson. A die-hard New York Yankees fan, emphatically prohibited by my father from watching the Mets until I was 18 years old. (So much so, in fact, that I still have to apologize to Pops for being professionally obligated to watch that franchise.)
And the new host on 1050 ESPN Radio.
And the new columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.
In this city, known as the Mecca, it's the Yankees or the Mets. You can't root for both. Despite our starvation involving the Knicks and their quest for their first championship since 1973, they'll always matter more than the Nets. Even when the Nets finally move to Brooklyn. The Giants and the Jets still belong to New York, even if they are playing in New Jersey.
And our passion, our knowledge, our commitment to accountability from our teams, is unparalleled and unapologetic.
A mild-mannered mentality never worked in this town, so don't expect any timidity now. If the Knicks stink, you won't hear that they're "struggling." Not in this space. When the Mets continue to lose, all the trouble they're in because of Bernie Madoff is not going to suffice as a viable excuse. We'll focus instead on the Mets' years of ineptitude and how much losing they were doing when they actually had money long before owner Fred Wilpon got himself mixed up in some Ponzi scheme.
Instead of limiting our focus to Yankees greats Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez -- or A-Rod's love life -- just as much attention will be paid to Brian Cashman's productivity. And instead of asking whether it's time for guys like Giants coach Tom Coughlin or Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to go, maybe we're not too far removed from questioning Eli Manning's productivity, or pondering the future of Mark Sanchez.
This is what happens in New York City. If you're not winning, you're losing. And when your body language resembles that of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who always looks depressed, that only makes things worse.
New Yorkers always want to win. But it's just as important to us that you show us that you're trying like hell to do it for us.
It's why we loved the late George Steinbrenner and all the headlines his petulance created over the years. It's why we respected former MSG and Knicks president Dave Checketts when he was chasing Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls -- to no avail. The crown may have eluded him, but at least he was legitimately chasing it.
It's why we're loving the Knicks right now, having watched them spend $100 million on Amare Stoudemire, knowing they're willing to spend another $100 million on Carmelo Anthony. It's why we can't get enough of the Yankees, despite knowing the Boston Red Sox now have a better rotation after clearly having a better offseason.
While winning may not always personify the Big Apple, attitude certainly does. Players get called to the carpet. So do coaches, managers, executives, owners and anyone associated with them. No one is safe.
In a city that never sleeps, skeptics consider this place heaven. Few ever get tired of talking. No one gets tired of listening. Everyone wants to opine about something, and whoever qualifies as collateral damage, well we all know how it goes.
It's New York. The place I've called home all of my life, where truth is always required. Or at least a concerted effort to capture it.
This is the way it's been my entire life. To be honest, this is the way it should be.
Whether it's pertaining to the Knicks, Nets, Giants, Jets, Mets or Yankees, the mandate is the same. Compete. Pursue excellence. When failing to do either, expect to be held accountable.
Didn't I tell you I never left?