LOS ANGELES — During All-Star Weekend, the Inside the NBA crew was absolutely everywhere. From the giant road show and fan festival that was set up outside Staples Center (where the NBA on TNT guys did a live, outdoor broadcast on Thursday), to personal appearances all over the city, to charity events, to shoe signings, it was hard to attend any significant amount of media events and not see either Charles Barkley or Shaquille O’Neal roll through the area.
Prior to that live broadcast on Thursday that helped kick off the All-Star Weekend, UPROXX had a chance to talk to Barkley and Kenny “The Jet” Smith about the on-screen ease and camaraderie that the panel exhibits year after year.
UPROXX: The NBA on TNT guys are renowned and beloved for your amazing chemistry. Can you describe that chemistry to me and what makes this team such a good fit with each other?
Barkley: Well, I think the main thing is, you know dude, we’re on television from eight o’clock at night to two o’clock in the morning. Nobody want us to be serious. First of all, we got a lot of shitty games. [laughter] But, we do, right? It’s frustrating for me as a fan. Like I can sit down, like, “I’m not gonna watch them two teams play. I’m not gonna watch these two teams play.” I mean, the balance of power is so shifted now. It’s tough to find good games.
So if we gonna be on from eight to two in the morning, we gotta make sure people have fun watching. ‘Cause we been able to get a great balance. First of all, we always want good games. First of all, that’s the perfect scenario when we get good games. But when we don’t get good games, we figure out how to make people have fun watching basketball. The ultimate thing would be to have really good games all the time, but clearly that’s not happening. I mean, we only got five or six elite teams in the NBA, and that’s unfortunate.
Smith: Our stuff is just … Four guys sitting on a couch, man. I forget we’re on … Like all of it, that’s why we cuss, every now and then, and it’s all like … Because you forget you’re on camera. Because this is the way we talk when we see each other at any point in our lives. Lot of fun. Chemistry is real because we don’t work on it. It’s unscripted, there is no agenda. If there’s a topic, we might switch it at the last … I know our producer, TK, he’s great because he’ll have a whole rundown sheet. And then, we don’t say anything on the rundown, we just change the whole subject. So, it’s fun to be part of that.
Was that easiness always there? Right from the beginning?
Smith: Well, Ernie [Johnson] and I were there first, so it became that … Ernie and I built that relationship, and Charles came in, just added kerosene to it. Just blew it up, because he just fit in so easily. But Ernie and I were doing that [thing] where weren’t really staying on script. And Ernie would say, and Tim Kiely honestly, our producer, was the one who kept saying to me, he’s like, “Kenny, it’s better when you don’t go on script, so keep doing that. Keep doing that!” And I’m like, “Okay!”
But the reason I was like, I just forgot about what we were talking about. I was like, that didn’t make sense to me, I’d rather talk about that. I’d rather stay on this topic longer. And it was just me and Ernie … Ernie and I, rather. So then now, he kept that going, so I give a lot to Tim Kiely.
You guys keep it light and try and have fun, but you also will go at each other every now and then. When it gets really heated and then you gotta go to commercial, what’s that commercial break like?
Smith: Oh it stays on, it keeps going! If it ends during a break, then we don’t keep … It won’t continue. But if it doesn’t end, it’ll still keep up! “Wait a minute! Ernie, before you …” Or, “Ernie! Ernie! Before you …”, and we keep going, because it’s … we all know we’re not malicious at each other, and it’s going to end. But we all … We have strong opinions. Really strong opinions. About everything. So that’s what makes it … Either we’re all gonna agree … But we never, kinda, contrive it. ‘Cause even when we agree, we agree differently.
Barkley: Dude, we’re not … I don’t think we’re ever gonna come to blows. No, but I think that it’s good to have basketball discussions because we all look at it from different perspectives, so that doesn’t bother me at all.
But man, I love going to work. I’m concerned about the league. I’ve been saying this for the last three or four years. I’m concerned. Depending on what happens this summer with LeBron. I mean, we could be down to basically a one- or two-team league. And at some point, the fans are gonna say, “Enough is enough. Why am I watching or buying tickets if we’ve only got three or four good teams in the NBA.” That concerns me.