LOS ANGELES – Charles Barkley is never not on. Even in a relaxed setting, the smallest thing can inspire him to bring the intensity that made him one of the NBA’s most fearsome players. He’s harnessed this; look up and it’s been 20 years for Barkley on Turner as one of the leads to Inside The NBA, a show that’s celebrating 30 years this season. The show works because everybody can be themselves, which means Barkley adopts a bit of a coiled snake technique at times, waiting for a topic, or play, or phrase to bring him to life so he can provide the unfiltered honesty and improvisation that has made the show tick for those two decades.
Barkley recounts a discussion he had with Dwyane Wade about the recently-retired guard joining the TNT crew this year at a luncheon held in Shaquille’s, one of Shaq’s restaurants in L.A. located across from the Staples Center.
“I told him you’re gonna watch basketball anyway,” Barkley recalls. “You may as well get paid for it.”
There’s something comforting in that simplicity. Inside doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, and many of the ideas, as Kenny Smith points out, come from the staffers in studio. If something doesn’t work, they abandon it. If they get off key, Ernie Johnson finds a way to decide when and where is the right time to let it breathe or reel it in. The games are secondary; although bad games make for longer nights than marquee matchups.
After the four-man crew riffed for about a half hour on a variety of topics from the NBA’s China situation to the show’s comparison to Yo! MTV Raps, Dime took part in a small group interview with Barkley as he previewed the NBA season. Questions came from the group, including Dime, Ben Golliver of The Washington Post, and several others. Answers have been condensed for clarity.
On if LeBron is still a top five player:
“Well, I mean, yeah, I think he’s a top five player. I mean, last year he got hurt, he was the best player. But he’s definitely a top five player.”
On who else can be considered for that top five (with James and AD):
“Kawhi’s in that group. Giannis … I might put James [Harden] in there. Steph, Steph is in there. Obviously KD when he’s healthy, but yeah, it’s a small list.”
On adjustments LeBron has to make for the Lakers to be successful:
“Age wise, you always have to adjust your game. Anthony Davis is probably going to have to be the best player on the team. You don’t get to keep the mantle of the best player your whole life, it passes on. So I think AD is probably going to have to be the best player on the Lakers if they’re going to win the championship.”
On superstars aging in the NBA:
“Father Time is undefeated, I’ve said that a million times and you never know when it’s going to hit, but when it hits, it’s a shocker because two things: Number one, you realize how hard the game is. Because when you’re like 25, 26 the game is easy. You’re better than 99 percent of the people in the world, so it’s very easy. But then, when you don’t recover as fast and also when guys who are not stars start giving it to you, that’s when you’re like, ‘oh.'”
It’s like when people say, ‘When do you know it’s time to retire?’ When guys who couldn’t play was kicking my ass. I was like, ‘That guy can’t play and he’s kicking my ass, it’s time for me to retire.’ And it’s tough. One of the things that make you great is your ego and your pride, but it’s hard to listen to it. That’s why you see guys keep hanging on sometimes. You think mentally you can still do it, but you can’t. You can do it mentally, but you can’t do it physically.”
On LeBron’s pairing with AD:
“He’s got it easy, though. He can pass it to Anthony Davis. You go back and look at history, Kareem, when he got old, he could pass the torch to Magic and still be effective. So LeBron is actually in a great situation if he is slowing down, because normally when you slow down, there is not another guy on your team that good. Like, when I slowed down, I didn’t have another guy I could, like, ‘Oh, you take over and I can still be effective.’ Normally when a superstar starts slowing down it’s like it’s really a crash landing.”
On why Kawhi Leonard’s better than LeBron right now:
“Because he’s better. He does everything better. He’s a better defender, he’s a better scorer, and that’s pretty … he’s better at imposing his will on the game. You just saw him just will a good Toronto team to the championship. That’s pretty impressive.”
On Kawhi’s run through the playoffs with Toronto:
“Listen, he was incredible. Watching him in the playoffs up close, that was one of the greatest playoff runs we’ve ever seen. I don’t think we would consider that Toronto team a great team, but he just like, ‘We’re not going to lose.’ If you watch that entire playoffs, I think it’s fair to say I’m not sure they played any team they were better than. Not the first round, I think they played Orlando, but then they played Philly and then Milwaukee. I think it’s fair to say they were definitely underdogs in those series, but Kawhi would not let them lose.”
On Paul George:
“Well he hasn’t had a lot of success in the playoffs, because you thought he would be better with Russell [Westbrook]. In Indiana, you see he didn’t have a lot of help. Indiana did just as well without him and then he goes and plays with Russell and Steven Adams and those guys and they still have no success. So I said this last night, it’s a lot of pressure on Paul George this year because he’s got to be the second-best player out there.”
On Zion Williamson’s weight:
“Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. When I got to the NBA, I was 300 pounds and I wasn’t getting to play right away, and I had to lose 50 pounds to become a great player but I was kind of fat. I would have to put him with somebody who really knows bodies, because he doesn’t look fat. But like I said, you’d have to get with somebody who’s really specific weight specialist, and they’d probably have to put him in one of those water things to see exactly what his body fat is and things like that. Like I said, I had to lose 50 pounds because I was fat because I couldn’t play at 300 pounds. But he’s a lot more explosive than me, but man, 285 is a lot.”
On his sleeper team in the East:
“Detroit is my sleeper team in the Eastern Conference. Now, they can’t beat Milwaukee and Philly, or the Celtics I don’t think, but I thought they were going to surprise some people this year.”
On load management:
“It was good enough for Bill Russell to play in canvas shoes and play all 82 games and play three games in a row, and go through planes, trains, automobiles, and now all of a sudden, y’all want to make all this money, y’all can’t play back to back games, the NBA commissioner, we all fly private now. Adam [Silver] moves the games so you don’t play back to back games. What do you want? You want a cookie next to go with y’all load management? We were able to play back to back games and 82 games for 50 years and all of a sudden y’all can’t play back to back games? Probably not a good subject for you to get me mad about.”
On player empowerment’s effect on the league longterm:
“Yeah, it’s going to be interesting what the owners do for this next summer. I think the owners are going to have some plan to stop it. It’s really unfortunate that we’ve gotten to the point now where all these guys want to play together and be best friends and our whole goal is being built around stealing the next superstar. It’s really unfortunate for the league and I think, like I said, it’s going to be really interesting what the owners do next summer. I do. I think the owners are going to do something. They’re not just going to keep letting these guys make their own decisions, because this is a business and we want competitive balance so everybody can have at least a decent team.”
On his potential advice for Giannis heading into free agency:
“I’d love to see him stay in Milwaukee and try to win it there. That’s one of the reasons we respect Dirk Nowitzki; he stayed in Dallas, he kept banging on the door and finally won one. Like I said, I just hope he stays there.”