Charles Barkley Dunks on WBD Brass, Teases ‘Inside the NBA’ Heist

If the 2024-25 NBA season proves to be the league’s final run with 40-year partner TNT, Charles Barkley may try to smuggle out the network’s celebrated studio show under his 62L suit jacket.

In a Thursday morning appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, the Inside the NBA mainstay said he’s spoken with his castmates Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal about what their next move should be if Comcast’s NBC Sports unit unseats TNT for the rights to the league’s “B” package.

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“I’ve talked to the guys about everybody signing with my production company … and I would love to do that if we lose it,” Barkley said, just two days after having won his fifth Sports Emmy Award for his work on Inside the NBA. As Barkley reiterated earlier this month on ESPN Radio, his 10-year, $100 million contract with TNT includes an opt-out clause, one that would allow him to walk away from Warner Bros. Discovery in the event the company fumbles the NBA bag.

While it’s unclear if the other three Inside the NBA fixtures have similar agreements in place, Barkley has suggested that 34-year TNT veteran Johnson is unlikely to jump ship. (Should Johnson stay the course in a post-NBA future, he’d still get plenty of reps in as TNT Sports’ March Madness studio anchor.) Worth noting: Barkley and the chairman of NBCUniversal Media Group, Mark Lazarus, worked together from 1999-2008, a span that includes Lazarus’ four-year stint as president of Turner Sports.

If there is much to be sorted out before fans can start entertaining visions of a wholly uncensored Sir Charles blazing through a final season behind the desk—Comcast has yet to submit a formal proposal, although its offer of $2.6 billion+ per season will be tough for WBD to match—Barkley offered a sneak preview of sorts today when he dunked on his corporate overlords.

“We’re just sitting back waiting on these people to figure out what they’re going to do,” Barkley said.  “You know, my two favorite wines are Inglenook and Opus, and these clowns I work for, they’ve turned us into Ripple and Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird. It’s crazy.”

Barkley may have sidestepped the third rail of using any damning proper nouns, but his barbs were clearly aimed at WBD boss David Zaslav. “I think the first thing is, you know, they came out and said we didn’t need the NBA, so I think that probably pissed [NBA commissioner] Adam [Silver] off,” Barkley said, in response to Patrick’s question about what went wrong on the rights-retention front. “I don’t know that, but I’m saying, like, you don’t…”

And Barkley was just getting warmed up. “When we merged that was the first thing our boss said, ‘We don’t need the NBA,’” he continued. “Well, he don’t need it, but the rest of the people—me, Kenny, Shaq and Ernie and the people who work there—we need it. So it just sucks right now.”

As much as morale continues to flag at TNT, the outcome remains uncertain—although recent events can’t have been terribly reassuring for the cast and crew of Inside the NBA. “You know, these people I work with, they screwed this thing up clearly and, uh, we don’t have zero idea what’s gonna happen,” Barkley said. “I don’t feel good, I’m not gonna lie—especially when they came out yesterday and said, ‘We bought college football.’ I was like, ‘Well, damn, they could’ve used that money to buy the NBA.’”

WBD’s agreement to sublicense a package of the expanded College Football Playoff may be interpreted as an implicit sign that the company is throwing in the towel on its association with pro hoops. At least that seems to be how Barkley is reading the tea leaves.

“We’ve never had college football and never been involved with college football,” he said, in a nod to his 24-year stint at TNT. “And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute: Shouldn’t we be spending every dime we go to keep the NBA?’ So morale sucks, to be honest with you.”

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