Luka? Jaylen? I’m Rooting For Chuckster.

NOTE:  This musing also appears today on our sister site, Leblanguage.  Please visit it regularly for observations and insights on media, politics and life.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended a couple of Super Bowls in person, the most recent being the Steelers-Cardinals showdown in Tampa in February 2009.  It was a thrill to be there, and even in hindsight worth the shekels that were shelled out for it.  But neither team is among the ones that I have a smattering of extra emotion for these days, a fact that didn’t deter the person I went with when a reporter for the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE was conducting random interviews with fans on the way out of Raymond James Stadium soliciting reactions to what turned out to be a thrilling last-minute come-from-behind win for Pittsburgh. When the reporter asked who were rooting for, my companion quipped “Bruce Springsteen”.

Yep, much as we applauded the heroics of Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner with relative politeness, we cheered the loudest for the halftime show headliner.

I’m reacting much the same way as a  viewer to this year’s NBA conference finals currently being played out on TV.  Both series are entertaining but heading toward potential sweeps.  The Boston Celtics all but punched their ticket to the Finals themselves by rallying to edge the Indiana Pacers 114-111 on the Gainbridge Fieldhouse hardcourt last night to go up 3-love, while the Dallas Mavericks did the same twice to the one team I still have a dollop of rooting interest for that remains, the Minnesota Timberwolves, as they head to Texas for the first of two home games tonight that could result in another sweep–and because of the fixed schedule that ABC has to telecast the finals, as much as a week without any playoff games at all.

And in the case of the Mavs-Wolves, even fewer remaining chances to see games on TNT, where not only is the wildly entertaining and best-in-class quartet that host their halftime festivities, as well as their pre and post-game shows, providing their usual dose of insight and hilarity, but their de facto ringleader, Charles Barkley, is proving once again to be a refreshingly honest and informed observer about the behind-the-scenes processes going on.  And he’s completely unafraid to share his opinions with anyone who’s willing to listen.

While an official deal is still forthcoming, it has been widely reported in recent days that the NBA has indeed decided who will be the winners of their media rights competition effective with the 2025-26 season.  CLUTCH POINTS’ Brett Siegel spelled out the facts in his piece from earlier this week:

NBA fans have come to adore Inside the NBA and all of the theatrics that happen each and every night they broadcast games. The show has become more of a hit than the games themselves, as it oftentimes features O’Neal, Barkley, and Smith jokingly mocking one another for the pure enjoyment of the fans. Over its history, Inside the NBA has won 18 different Sports Emmy Awards, signifying how exceptional the show truly is outside of just talking about the game of basketball itself.

Unfortunately, all great things always seem to come to a premature end, and Turner Sports has appeared to meet its match. The NBA has been formalizing written contracts with Disney, NBC, and Amazon to be the three companies that will air NBA games and content for the foreseeable future. This has left Turner Sports and their award-winning show on the backburner, likely meaning that their time handling the league’s media rights is over.  The NBA is expected to receive close to $2.8 billion from ESPN for their rights to the league’s material. This “A” package will include the NBA Finals, a conference final, weekly primetime games, the WNBA, and likely shared international rights, according to SBJ. As for the “B” package from NBC, this deal is being reported to cost around $2.6 billion to include a total of two primetime windows a week, conference semifinals, and a conference final. 

There’s been some weak attempts to sugar-coat this news, such as this reminder courtesy of FOR THE WIN’s Robert Zeglinski:

Talk of this show going off the air is premature no matter what.

That means Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Shaquille O’Neal will all be together on TNT for the 2024-2025 season, even if the network loses its long-term NBA rights. Again, a full season of shows.

But the ever-quotable Barkley isn’t taking that approach.  Instead, he’s in the midst of a full-court press not seen since his playing days hoping against hope that the death clock for TNT won’t be starting when the Western Conference finals end.  And he’s not afraid to name names, as the ATHLETIC’s Richard Deitsch reported last Thursday:

Charles Barkley has soared to fame in sports television by speaking his mind — and the iconic NBA broadcaster did not hold back during an appearance with “The Dan Patrick Show” on Thursday.

Barkley said he is ticked off at his bosses and that the atmosphere among the NBA staffers at Warner Bros. Discovery is not good as TNT Sports’ future with the NBA remains in limbo with one piece of the NBA’s next television rights deal still up for grabs.

Morale sucks, plain and simple,” said Barkley, regarding Warner Bros. Discovery’s seemingly losing hand in the negotiations for the upcoming NBA media rights. “I just feel so bad for the people I work with. These people have families and I just really feel bad for them right now. You know these people I work with (management), they screwed this thing up, clearly. We don’t have zero idea what’s going to happen. I don’t feel good. I’m not going to lie. Especially when they came out yesterday and said we bought college football.” (TNT Sports added College Football Playoff games in a five-year sub-licensing deal with ESPN.)

“I was like, oh, damn, they could have used that money to buy the NBA,” Barkley said. “We’ve never had college football, never been involved with college football. I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, shouldn’t we be spending every dime we got to keep the NBA?’ So morale sucks, to be honest with you.”

At the center of this is effectively a bravado battle between NBA commissioner Adam Silver and WBD czar David Zaslav, where much like his doppelganger ’round these parts Yosemite Sam, he is suffering the effects of foot-in-mouth disease, as FRONT OFFICE SPORTS’ Michael McCarthy wrote in his weekly newsletter this morning:

Yes, it would take cojones for the NBA to drop TNT after 40 years. Charles Barkley’s Inside the NBA is the gold standard for sports studio shows. The network has done an incredible job covering the NBA. But David Zaslav, chief executive officer of TNT parent Warner Bros. Discovery, shot himself in the foot by telling Wall Street in 20(2)2: “We don’t have to have the NBA.”

That comment “probably pissed Adam off,” Barkley told Dan Patrick on Thursday. “When we merged, that’s the first thing that our boss said: ‘We don’t need the NBA.’ Well, he doesn’t need it. But me, Kenny [Smith], Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal], and Ernie [Johnson], and the people who work there, we need it. It just sucks right now.”

Zaslav and his lackeys took on a similarly defiant and obstinate tone in other remarks last week, including saber-rattling a threat of a lawsuit against the league.  Per STREAMABLE’s David Satin:

That confidence could stem from the fact that WBD ostensibly has the right to match any deal the NBA makes with another outlet. However, there has been disagreement from analysts as to whether matching rights will be enough given the circumstances. Because of the multiple weekly viewing windows available on the NBC broadcast network that cable channel TNT cannot match, the NBA is reportedly arguing that a simple dollar-for-dollar match on WBD’s part won’t constitute an actual matching offer. If that point is pushed, insiders have said that it could cause WBD to sue to try and keep the NBA on its airwaves.

But what’s particular galling, as Barkley well knows, is that WBD is ready to step up to the plate at a $2.1B/year number, which means at the moment the gap is a reasonably handleable $400 million per year.  But since any variance of that size might diminish the size of the bonus Zaslav, who has already gone on record elsewhere this month in insisting that CEOs should be compensated based upon their ability to hit determined financial goals, will receive, he appears dug in on his number and won’t let any sort of sentiment or morale issue with his employees deter him from that course.

As INDIE WIRE’s Tony Maglio reported last month, Yosemite Zas personally earned $49.7 million in 2023.  And he already has more than enough saved up to handle the ongoing remodel at his California pad, the one-time garish estate of the flamboyant Paramount executive and producer Bob Evans.  So he alone could make up a significant amount of the shortfall.   Many other CEOs would waive their salary to maintain a property as crucial as the NBA and a program as critically acclaimed and favorably received by sponsors as is INSIDE THE NBA.  Not Yosemite.

And it’s not the first time that Zaslav and his cronies have ticked Barkley off this year, either.  OK! MAGAZINE’s Taylor Norton reported yesterday on how mismanaged news and expectations were about another show he was involved in that has already become history:

While on the Thursday, May 23, episode of “The Mike Missanelli Podcast,” the NBA alum ranted to host Mike Missanelli about how those working at the news network poorly handled the cancelling of his and Gayle King’s show, King Charles.

You know the type of boneheads I work with?” he asked, adding, “First of all, it wasn’t canceled. I talk to Gayle all the time. They haven’t told us we were canceled. That’s how stupid these people are.”

Back in April, The New York Post reported that the weekly program has been axed due to low ratings. King Charles aired 14 episodes, however, their ratings were eclipse by those of Friends reruns and episodes of South Park.

The basketball legend said he was never told the show was being nixed.

“I was gonna do a short little window and go back to the NBA,” he shared. “But that just shows you how full of s— the whole thing is with CNN. Like, we had new people take over and we in disarray. Like, yesterday they put an article out that CNN had its worst ratings ever since like 1992.”. 

Barkley shared with Deitsch a vision that perhaps in a worst-case scenario he could be a white knight for himself and his colleagues:

Patrick asked Barkley about the prospect of “Inside the NBA” staffers Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal forming a production company and then selling themselves as a fully packaged Inside The NBA-like show.

Barkley, who owns his own production company, said he has discussed that possibility. “I would love to do that if we lose it. Somebody suggested that to me, to be honest with you, on the internet. … I’m like, that’s a great idea. But we’re just sitting back waiting on these people to figure out what they’re going to do. My two favorite wines are Inglenook and Opus and these clowns I work for, they’ve turned us into Ripple and Boone’s Farm and Thunderbird. We got the best studio show — it’s so funny, we just won the (Sports Emmy’s) best studio show and these fools turned us from Inglenook and Opus into damn’s Boone’s Farm and Ripple. It’s crazy.”

One could contest that anyone who’s hocking Subway sandwiches and churros is in no position to knock Boone’s Farm, which probably goes down far better with a footlong than his preferences.  But if someone did, I have little doubt Barkley would not hold back anything to rebut that.

And if indeed what appears to be the inevitable comes to pass later this week, and if Zaslav decides to pull a Trump-like maneuver and start lawyering up during the Finals he won’t be covering, rest assured Patrick and others will gladly give Barkley free rein to weigh in further.  As they no doubt will through a potential lame-duck 2024-25 season, assuming Silver doesn’t show his own cojones again and find a way to extract the show from WBD earlier.

Well, you know that in any battle with someone named Yosemite, the rabbit usually comes out on top.

I’m really rooting that Chucks Bunny prevails one way or the other in this case.  And hopefully finds a better costumer in the process.

Until next time…

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