Charles Barkley’s unfiltered thoughts on Utah, the Jazz, winter sports and the psyche of the modern NBA player

In a small room at Salt Lake City’s The Complex venue, Charles Barkley sat on an extremely short sofa.

Five feet away, on an ultra-tall stool, sat Barkley’s Inside The NBA co-host Kenny Smith. Meanwhile, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal found himself in a standard chair about 7 feet away. And in their own places, the group of three was on the court: each surrounded by a group of five or six members of the media asking questions about anything at the start of All-Star Weekend.

Despite having retired from the NBA between 10 and 25 years ago, Barkley, Smith and O’Neal are three of the biggest names in basketball, and remain huge stars in their own right. But the secret to its success — Inside The NBA is widely recognized as the preeminent sports show of this era — is not its excellence, but its authenticity.

While other shows provide restricted, witty but extremely rote coverage of your sport (think all the NFL pregame shows), the TNT crew (along with emcee Ernie Johnson) always provide an unerringly honest assessment. , if not always accurate, of everything they do. see: the games, the players, the owners, whatever. His show is less functional than funny.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shaquille O’Neal speaks to reporters before filming TNT’s Inside the NBA show from the Complex in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 16, 2023.

So perhaps the situation in SLC was the best possible microcosm of the Inside The NBA experience: cluttered chairs in a wildly casual setting, while basketball’s most famous analysts said things others would choose, perhaps wisely, to avoid.

barkley backstage

As the final preparations for the show continued around them, the three former players gave their thoughts. Barkley, as always, had the best lines. Frankly, there’s no better way to capture the man than to let his words stand alone.

Here’s Barkley on winter sports:

“Blacks don’t ski, I keep telling them that. We don’t do cold stuff. I’m not good at anything that’s cold. But you know, when I look at the weather report, it’s actually going to be pretty good, comparable to what it could be.”

And, relatedly, in Salt Lake City:

“Well, this is an underrated city. I think Salt Lake is a fabulous city. Obviously, I’ve been coming here for a long time. It looks like the weather is going to be decent. But they have big fans here.”

Does Barkley think NBA players want to come to Salt Lake City?

“Let’s face it, there are very few places people want to go. I mean, no one ever said I want, no disrespect, use Utah, but I don’t remember people saying ‘let me go to San Antonio, Indiana or Sacramento’. So you just have to write well. They all got 102 draft picks, so they just have to get their draft picks right.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Charles Barkley speaks to reporters before filming TNT’s Inside the NBA show from the Complex in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 16, 2023.

What does Barkley think about the high-profile fan incidents in Utah, including allegations that a fan used “excessive and derogatory verbal abuse” toward Russell Westbrook in 2019?

“These players today are a little too sensitive, I mean, this notion that you can take the fans out now. It depends on what the fan said, but just because the fan is telling you something that you might not like, I think the NBA is going overboard when you kick the fans out of the game. Now, racial slurs, homophobic slurs, things like that, cannot be tolerated. But you’d have to hear someone say something really outrageous for a fan to get kicked out. I mean, we would have been playing in front of empty arenas.”

Here’s Barkley on load management:

“These guys have the best doctors, the best shoes and everything, and they make $30, $40, $50 million a year! I don’t think that’s too much to ask (for them to play), right? People always got hurt, but they didn’t stay out just because they wanted to. There is a difference between being hurt and managing the load. We survived by playing Chuck Taylors and flying commercials, and for a lot less money.

“To earn all that money, you have an obligation to the fans. I wouldn’t mind cashing those $30, $40 million checks, which is why I think he could suffer for 35 minutes on the basketball court. They are not steel workers.

Or Barkley on the commercial demands of the players:

“You can’t take my money and say you want to divorce me in six months to a year, because you can only get the most out of this team. You can’t take all my money and then say ‘hey, I want a divorce’. So I’m pretty sure that’s the next thing to come out of CBA. I have no doubt in my mind that these guys are going to be excluded. These owners, you can’t take all their money and treat these owners and fans like dirt. Without a doubt, in my mind, these guys will be shut out, because these owners are not going to stand for this.”

And these were the fireworks before the show started.

creating the show

The Complex is not a television. But for their Inside The NBA show ahead of All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, the TNT team had three clear needs in an area close to downtown, and The Complex fit the bill. What they needed:

• a concert stage, where they could present the Wiz Khalifa and Chloe Bailey concerts on Thursday night during the show itself;

• an indoor location, where they can run around and host a TV show, whatever the weather conditions;

• and an outdoor stage, where they could connect the show with their surroundings: Utah’s snowy wonderland.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kenny Smith speaks to reporters before filming TNT’s Inside the NBA from the Complex in Salt Lake City on Thursday, February 16, 2023.

Forget there wasn’t much snow yet in the city center. The Inside the NBA production team, led by Senior Director Sarah Phillips, loaded enough snow into trucks to make a makeshift pipe hill on set, complete with propane heaters and trees everywhere.

Overall, around 200 employees have been working since Monday to bring the three-part program to life. Some are Atlanta-based TNT employees, but much of the team was recruited from the Utah region. For All-Star Weekend overall, the team has 12 broadcast trucks — two at The Complex, 10 at Salt Palace — to direct, produce and distribute coverage around the world.

For a couple of weeks, his team promoted the event on radio stations and on Instagram; over 1,200 fans filed in to fill the venue to its modified capacity. Some were there for Khalifa and the concert, but most chose to surround the desk of O’Neal, Johnson, Smith, and Barkley.

“Usually we fill it in as much as we can,” Phillips said. “Like, we want that energy. We want people to experience the show that way.”

That being said, they have to hold that energy for a long time. An hour and a half before the show was set to begin at 5 p.m., dozens of Utah basketball fans were already lined up on the sidewalk, waiting to get inside. Some didn’t leave until 11:30 pm when the show went off the air. As a result, the Inside The NBA team is required to feature DJs, host contests, and more. The team hosted a shooting contest on a half basketball court, along with some shooting stations and some giveaways to keep the vibe alive.

And they did, until the end of the show, when it was time to slide down that hill of artificial tubes. To their credit, the pair of Johnson and Smith were up for grabs, eventually pushing to the edge and falling to the cheers of the crowd. O’Neal hesitated, worried that he might burst the tubes, and finally stepped to the side.

That left Barkley alone at the top of the hill. He stood center stage, skipping the chance to go sledding to end the show, as the remaining fans sent him hearty boos.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Barkley is always honest, and you know how he feels about winter sports.

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