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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

‘Morale Sucks’: Charles Barkley Blasts David Zaslav’s Historic Bungling of NBA Rights

  • Barkley said ‘clowns’ and ‘fools’ mangled the NBA rights negotiations, putting his beloved show in jeopardy.
  • He seemed open to possibly rebooting ‘Inside the NBA’ through his own production company.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Barkley has been joking on-air for weeks about the pending demise of Inside the NBA, even saying recently that he was firing up a LinkedIn account. On Thursday morning, he went on The Dan Patrick Show and took an unusually blunt—even by Barkley’s standards—shot at Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

Zaslav has been outmaneuvered at every turn in the NBA’s rights negotiations, and TNT Sports, WBD’s subsidiary that airs games and Inside, appears to be on the brink of losing rights to Amazon and NBC starting with the 2025–26 season.

Barkley called his employers “clowns” and “fools” and directly cited Zaslav’s infamous claim that his company didn’t need the league. (Zaslav backtracked on that earlier this spring and was spotted sucking up to the league by wearing a stiff Knicks cap courtside at Madison Square Garden during the team’s playoff run.)

“That probably pissed Adam [Silver] off,” Barkley said of the Zaslav quote. “I don’t know that … but when we merged, that’s the first thing that our boss said: ‘We don’t need the NBA.’ Well, he don’t need it. But me, Kenny, Shaq, Ernie, and the rest of the people who work there need it. It just sucks right now.”

The future of Inside the NBA has probably been the most-discussed part of these rights negotiations, just ahead of the potential return of “Roundball Rock” and, oh yeah, the NBA doubling its TV revenue to roughly $7 billion a year.

Patrick brought up the possibility that Barkley’s production company could simply hire the Inside cast and then license the show to a rights holder. (Barkley has a clause in his contract that makes him a free agent if TNT loses the NBA, while Ernie Johnson is contractually tied to TNT Sports across several sports.)

“I would love to do that if we lose it,” Barkley said, calling it a “great idea” and one he had considered.

Barkley was also irate about Wednesday’s news that TNT will begin airing College Football Playoff games this season. “These people I work with, they screwed this thing up, clearly,” he said. “I don’t feel good, I’m not gonna lie. Especially when it came out yesterday that we bought college football. I was like, well damn, they could have used that money to buy the NBA. … Shouldn’t we be spending every dime we got to keep the NBA?” (TNT Sports has been adamant that the two deals are unrelated.) 

Barkley said the behind-the-scenes talent at Inside was struggling. “Morale sucks, plain and simple,” he told Patrick. He went on to blast Zaslav and his boardroom coterie in typical Barkleyian fashion.

“My two favorite wines are Inglenook and Opus, and these clowns I work for have turned us into Ripple and Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird,” Barkley added, calling the executives who mangled the negotiations “fools.”

He does seem as in the dark as the rest of media and Inside fans, saying he had read reports (like one from Front Office Sports) that TNT was trying a last-ditch attempt to save its rights, while he had heard Bill Simmons’s podcast appearance saying that TNT losing the league to NBC was a done deal. “So, I don’t know what to believe. … It sucks for all of us.”

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