By Conor McCue

CBS4 is Elevating Black Voices in our communities in honor of Black History Month.

DENVER (CBS4) – Quiet but confident, Thierry Smith was unlike anyone Denver sports fans had heard on the radio before. For nearly three decades, he was quick-witted, at times controversial, and unapologetically homegrown. Whether it was a guest on the line or a superstar athlete, Smith was authentic and patient, rather than combative.

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“Thierry Smith, in himself, was an oddity for all of Denver media,” said Calvin Williamson. “To hear someone of his caliber doing sports, who was from the community, he was a superstar.”

(credit: CBS)

A graduate of East High School, Smith was the first black voice for sports on Denver’s airwaves when he started with KDKO in the early 80s. He went on to work at KYBG and then KKFN, now 104.3 The Fan.

Over the years, he covered many of the city’s biggest professional sports moments, but more than anyone else, gave high school athletes a voice. Friends and family members say he was particularly proud when could highlight student athletes from Denver.

“He really had an affinity for them to compete. Not just in sports, but compete on an educational level, too,” Williamson said.

As a kid in northeast Denver, Williamson was an avid fan of Smith’s show. He still remembers the day he learned the woman down the street, whom he often shoveled snow for, was Smith’s mother.

“It was mind-blowing for me. That right there stayed with me and stayed on my mind and helped me in my pursuit to later on go into radio,” Williamson said. “Denver at the time had no representation on the air.”

Years later, Williamson would cross paths with Smith at both KDKO and KKFN. For a short time, he even worked the board for Smith’s show.

Williamson says Smith’s “human touch” bought him the trust of athletes like Magic Johnson and Muhammad Ali.

“They loved T for the same reason the listeners loved T. That was, what you saw was what you got,” he said.

Like the outspoken boxer, Smith was also unafraid of controversy. Williamson still admires and finds humor in Smith’s decision to become a Los Angeles Raiders fan when the team hired Art Shell, the NFL’s second black coach.

“He knew how to shake the trees,” Williamson said.

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“He never tried to be anything other than who he was as an African American man,” said Beatrice Griffin, a longtime friend of Smith’s.

Behind the scenes, friends like Griffin knew what many listeners didn’t. Smith had been battling Multiple Sclerosis since he was a young man.

“I don’t even know how he carried himself the way he did, when he was unable to walk, he still made sure he did all of his gigs,” Griffin said.

During a second stint with KDKO, Smith did his show from a home studio, but later returned to the studio with the KKFN. As his body broke down, he never quit.

(credit: CBS)

When hometown hero, Chauncey Billups, won NBA Finals MVP, it was Smith who got the first interview in Denver. According to his son, Damon Smith, Thierry was so sick that day, he interviewed Billups from a hospital bed in his home and received treatment at a hospital a few hours later.

Listen to the interview between Thierry Smith and Chauncey Billups below:

“He was a real soldier,” Griffin said. “If there was anyone who wanted to emulate the way that you would go through such a devastating disease, he would be that guy.”

Following his death in 2009, the airwaves have been absent of Smith’s voice for almost 12 years.  Friends and family believe his legacy lives on through the people who have since followed his path, as well as those empowered by his actions.

“To let young people know that, hey, they have a shot,” Williamson said. “They have a shot to not only do what he has done, but do even more.”

This May the inaugural Thierry Smith Golf Tournament will be held in his honor. All proceeds will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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Conor McCue