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J.R. Smith crossed a line by calling Stephen A. Smith an 'Uncle Tom'

J.R. Smith and Stephen A. Smith’s beef began with a rant about hoodies. No, seriously.

J.R. Smith’s Twitter page has been a nearconstant source of controversy since the moment he gained his first follower and realized he could use social media to slide into women’s DMs or crack jokes. (He’s made things interesting on Instagram and Facebook, too.) Consequentially, his Twitter trigger fingers are just as quick as his impulse to take a 30-foot heat check 3-pointer.

Over the weekend, things got serious when J.R. Smith got ornery over Stephen A. Smith. The ESPN commentator made a bizarre tangential argument that it’s inappropriate for the Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard to wear a Nike warmup hoodie over his head on the bench, and may make white people nervous because it could be evocative of the Trayvon Martin slaying:

And in Game 1, when they played against Boston, J.R. Smith was sitting on that bench with a hoodie on. I don’t know why Nike made these damn uniforms that had hoods attached to it, by the way. You got a lot of white folks in the audience that are gonna think this is Trayvon Martin being revisited, and I’m not joking about it. The bench is no place for someone to be wearing hoodies.

I have no problem with hoodies. People shouldn’t be stereotyped and stigmatized for wearing hoodies. I totally agree with the Miami Heat, and Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen, and all those guys when they donned those hoodies back then, after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by wannabe cop Mr. Zimmerman, who should have been convicted. But the bench? For a basketball player? Sitting on the bench with his team, that is no place for a hoodie. I don’t know why the hell Nike did that. They need to get rid of those damn hoodies. There’s no place for a hoodie. A hoodie shouldn’t be attached to a uniform that you can wear while you’re on the bench during a game, but J.R. Smith had it on.

J.R. took umbrage to being called out and warned Stephen A. Smith to back off, but was fairly restrained in doing so. Unfortunately, their verbal feud escalated on Monday, with Stephen A. directly criticizing J.R. on “First Take,” prompting J.R. to respond in kind with a blistering series of tweets that may have gone a step too far:

Neither Smith is the type to back down from a beef. It’s not that uncommon for athletes and the reporters who cover them to get into minor squabbles, but Stephen A. Smith has fallen from his perch as a respected NBA insider and every NBA superstar’s best journalist friend. Instead, he has become one of the most polarizing figures in sports media.

In the past, he’s used his on-air presence to lash out at Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Just this past summer, he had to fend off Lamar Odom’s lawyer for claiming the retired forward was on crack when the New York Knicks signed him in 2014.

However, J.R.’s decision to use a derogatory epithet like “Uncle Tom” to attack Stephen A. Smith was more ill-advised than his shot selection this season. J.R. Smith is shooting only 26 percent from the field this season for the struggling Cavs; the last thing he needs is an off-the court distraction messing with his focus. Stephen A. Smith’s sloppy stab at respectability politics deserves a rebuke, but the historical context behind “Uncle Tom” and the idea of ‘submissive African-Americans’ raises hairy issues and makes it a weighty insult to throw around casually.

The J.R.-Stephen A. Smith feud is getting ugly, and it’s about time an adult stepped in the middle and got these two cantankerous counterpunchers to head back to their respective corners to squash this personal back-and-forth bickering. That seems unlikely, though, given the two petty characters at the center of this melodrama.