Stephen A. Smith said that LeBron James alienated some NBA players in the meetings Wednesday and Thursday as they discussed whether to continue with the playoffs.
"He has been a role model, he has been a sensation individual, he's the greatest player in the world as far as I'm concerned and a lot of things -- but to call him a leader at this particular moment in time, that would not apply," Smith said Friday on ESPN's First Take.
After the Milwaukee Bucks stayed in their locker room for Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in protest of the Jacob Blake shooting, all three NBA games that day were canceled.
The players held a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss whether to proceed with the playoffs, with the Lakers and Clippers reportedly voting against playing.
Smith said he heard from multiple sources that James was "speaking out of pocket" and talked to other players in a way that "really turned some of these young cats off."
"He sort of came off like, 'I got mine, I don't need this,' and walked out," Smith said.
After emotions cooled down, James decided Thursday it behooved players to continue with the playoffs, according to multiple reports.
The players went on to vote Thursday to resume the NBA postseason.
But Smith said that during a meeting Thursday with at least two players from each team inside the NBA bubble in Florida, the team owners, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA director Michele Roberts, James further upset some players.
"When everybody thought the meeting was over, LeBron James grabs the mic, and from what I'm told, talks for about 15 minutes, and he's talking for about 15 minutes in a fashion that turned everybody off because they had already agreed to what they were going to do moving forward," Smith said.
"And he was talking about 'the guys beneath me, I have to look out for the guys beneath me' to the point where you have people saying, 'What the hell you mean, beneath you?' Now they didn't say that to him, but they certainly said it to people like myself, Woj [ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski] and others who were covering that meeting. He came across as if he was the king with some crown and what have you, and it was a real, real turnoff."
Smith said that could potentially impact James.
"It's relevant because you're trying to galvanize folks with your More Than A Vote movement," Smith said of the nonprofit James helped found in June to end Black voter suppression.
Smith added that it could affect James in another way too.
"You want to be an owner," Smith said. "Well, you already alienated owners when you departed from Cleveland to go to South Beach the first time. You obviously were on the verge of alienating owners this time around. And this is a good old boys club, they don't have to let you in."
Smith added that James' approach over the last two days was uncharacteristic.
"He usually sees the forest from the trees," Smith said, before addressing his co-host Max Kellerman. "Max, over the last two days, that was not the case. He turned a lot of people off by how he tried to come across as if he were big time. He needs to be careful about that by what I've been told by numerous people that were present."