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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

With Ernie Johnson Committed to TNT, Charles Barkley Says ‘Inside the NBA’ Future Is Uncertain

  • Barkley would become a free agent if TNT loses its NBA rights—and he says that could happen as soon as today.
  • He questions whether ‘Inside the NBA’ would work elsewhere without Johnson, who is expected to stay at TNT.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Barkley appeared on The Dan Patrick Show on Friday, discussing the “very stressful” situation at his workplace, TNT, as the network negotiates to retain NBA media rights. Barkley said he hopes TNT’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, re-signs the NBA—and thinks the situation could be resolved, one way or another, at some point Friday.

In addition to ESPN and TNT, the NBA is said to be considering bids from Amazon and NBC, with NBC prepared to outbid Barkley’s current boss. The entire Inside the NBA crew—Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith—signed contract extensions in 2022, but Barkley added a clause in his deal that would make him a free agent if TNT loses its NBA rights.

“I want to make it clear; I love TNT,” Barkley told Patrick on Friday. “I love everybody at TNT, and they’ve been great for me. But I don’t want to be in limbo if we lose the NBA. That wouldn’t be fair to me.”

Johnson, meanwhile, is expected to stay at TNT no matter what happens. That leaves the beloved Inside the NBA in limbo. When Patrick suggested that perhaps the show could move to another broadcaster with a new host, Barkley wasn’t so sure. “Our show won’t be the same without Ernie. Ernie is the most important person on our show,” Barkley said.

Johnson is more tied to Turner than the NBA, Barkley noted, because he also handles baseball coverage. But if the network were to lose the NBA, Barkley said, “Us other three are screwed, basically. Not necessarily screwed, but we won’t have a job.” Barkley, Smith, and Johnson also contribute to March Madness coverage for CBS and Turner.

Barkley said the ongoing NBA negotiations are more “nerve-racking” than past ones because the NBA didn’t sign with TNT during its exclusive negotiating window and opened up instead to outside bidders. In that open market, The Wall Street Journal reported that NBC’s parent, Comcast, would pay $2.5 billion per year for NBA rights, which is more than double the amount TNT currently pays at $1.2 billion annually.

While Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has said that TNT doesn’t “have to have the NBA,” Barkley sang another tune. “We’ve merged three times in the last five years and we’ve fired hundreds of people. If we lose the NBA, I can’t imagine how bad it’s gonna be at Turner,” he said.

TNT declined Front Office Sports’ requests for comment.

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