Wilmington hosts ’Magic’ show for historically black colleges

Magic Johnson seen on the set of ESPN's

Magic Johnson seen on the set of ESPN's "First Take" as they filmed a segment from the 76ers Fieldhouse on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

The ESPN sports talk show hosted by former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Stephen A. Smith took to the road Friday, broadcasting from  Wilmington to promote historically black colleges and universities.

“First Take,” as the show is called, also featured one very special guest — Basketball Hall of Famer and HIV survivor Magic Johnson.

Along with discussing hoops and other sports during the live broadcast at the new 76ers Fieldhouse for the G-League Delaware Blue Coats, Johnson also talked about his upbringing.

“I was the first to go to college in my family out of six sisters and three brothers. So I paved the way for my brothers and sisters to go to college,’’ Johnson told “Stephen A,’’ the provocative commentator’s co-hosts Molly Qerim and Max Kellerman, and an audience of more than 2,000 people.

The cast of “ESPN First Take” with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim seen broadcasting live from the 76ers Fieldhouse Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

Qerim followed up, highlighting Johnson’s larger impact.

“And you continue to pave the way. You continue to pay it forward,” she said, before turning to the other main event in the arena — a college fair where reps from more than two dozen HBCUs met with prospective students.

“Nobody is here by accident,’’ Qerim said. “Everybody is already taking a step in the right direction.”

Makennzie Castillo of Delcastle High didn’t go into the gymnasium to watch the broadcast but saw it on a gigantic screen on the turf field where the college fair was held.

“I’m here because I just wanted to network with all the HBCUs that I might be interested in and just see what I haven’t seen on the internet or haven’t been told,’’ said Castillo, who is most interested in Spelman College in Atlanta.

Magic Johnson is escorted off the set of ESPN “First Take” with Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, Molly Qerim after filming his segment from the 76ers Fieldhouse Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Wilmington, Del. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

She added that the sports celebrities that came to Wilmington are “good publicity” for the event, “but I think the ultimate goal is for the HBCUs to show everyone what they are made of.”

Tony Allen, Delaware State University’s provost, said those attending the college expo would get “on-site admission to over 20 universities and, in some cases, some real scholarships right on site today.”

Allen also applauded Smith, who attended the HBCU Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and has long championed the merits of those institutions.

“There are many colleges and universities across the country, but only 3% are HBCUs yet we represent 50% of all African American professionals in the country,’’ Allen said. “So we are disproportionately doing our work, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

The Winston-Salem State band and its chancellor also attended the event, as did Ted Blunt, the former Wilmington City Council president and a Winston-Salem student and basketball standout.

Eddie Gram, who attended HBCU Lincoln University, painted a Simpsons-themed piece while in Wilmington for Magic Johnson’s visit. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Blunt called Smith “a tremendous ambassador for all historically black colleges and universities.”

While Blunt spoke with WHYY, Gov. John Carney, a former basketball standout himself at St. Mark’s High School near Pike Creek, quipped that Blunt had even played with future Hall of Famer Earl Monroe at Winston-Salem.

Carney said the college fair, part of Wilmington’s third annual HBCU Week, “is special because it gets our high school students focused on colleges, exposes them to places where they’ve never been before, like where this gentleman [Blunt] went, Winston-Salem.”

Some, however, attended solely for the ESPN broadcast. Ryan Jones drove up to Baltimore to watch one of his favorite shows. 

“I’m just here to see `First Take’, Stephen A, Miley, the whole crew,’’ he said from his second-row perch in the bleachers.

Ariel Brown, who drives a forklift at the city port, said, “I love their show, I watch it every morning.”

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