The national broadcasting treasure that is Charles Barkley turned up at the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday night, a consequence of his “thank God for the NHL playoffs; that’s what I’ve been watching” dig during his regular TNT gig at an under-competitive NBA postseason. While his commentary might not have been warmly received in NBA and TNT circles, it was coolly refreshing for the rest of us.
Barkley, who flew to Nashville for Game 4 of the Predators-Penguins series at the invitation of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, was all over, going from crashing a Wayne Gretzky news conference to the Jumbotron to NBC. And the man who threatened to leave Game 5 of the Celtics-Cavs series to watch an NHL game, even showed up on NBC during a Game 4 intermission.
It was all good, clean (well, sorta) fun, too. There was a lot to unpack, but we learned that Barkley remains underwhelmed by the NBA postseason, is still amazed at the Predators’ catfish thing and Jeremy Roenick, the NBC analyst who jumped an alligator a couple of years ago. And he continued to declare his love for the NHL, at the expense of the league in which he formerly played.
“I’m just glad to be here because the NBA playoffs have not been great,” he said during intermission on NBC, “but the Stanley Cup playoffs have been amazing.”
Gulp. Reminded by Mike Milbury of the inconvenient fact that he gets “a paycheck for talking about the NBA,” Barkley was undeterred. “First of all, they can’t fire me.” Then, he allowed, “Well, they can, but then they’ve got to pay me. That’s why I signed a long-term deal.”
Har-har. Sir Chuck of The Pucks had a little fun with the Great One, too. Because this was his playground, he interrupted a news conference conversation between Gretzky and Paul Coffey about the 1984-85 Oilers being voted the greatest team in league history to ask Gretzky to name his favorite black athlete. That would be Grant Fuhr, Gretzky’s goalie with the Oilers.
— NHL (@NHL) June 5, 2017
The NHL’s biggest (ahem) fan promised that he’s going on a diet and added that he would never throw a catfish on the ice, as Predators fans do, because he doesn’t like fish. Oh, and he was rooting for the gator against Roenick. “I’m one of those people, when I see JR, who’s a really good friend of mine, I sent him a text the other night, I thought the catfish thing was amazing, but I will say this, I’m one of those people, I wanted to see the alligator eat his [butt] one time.”
Barkley’s hockey allegiance has long been a thing, dating back to the World Hockey Association’s entry in his home state of Alabama, to his days in Philadelphia, when he became friendly with the Flyers’ Eric Lindros. And his friendship with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon has resulted in trips to watch Wilbon’s beloved Blackhawks play.
All that aside, it can’t be going over well when he rips the NBA’s postseason product.
“I think we showed a stat we’ve only had four basketball games in the playoffs that were less than double digits,” Barkley said. “So it’s not been a lot of fun broadcasting games this year.”
But it does pay well.