More Culture:

May 22, 2024

Charles Barkley 'worried' about TNT colleagues as NBA nears new TV deals

The league is reportedly finalizing agreements with ESPN, NBC and Amazon on media rights after next season.

Media NBA
Charles Barkley TNT Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Charles Barkley has been on TNT's 'Inside the NBA' since 2000. The NBA is negotiating its next round of media rights deals, which could see the league leave TNT after 35 years on the network.

The freewheeling banter that has made "Inside the NBA" a staple of basketball's broadcasting landscape could be nearing the end of its run as the league is expected to come to a decision soon about its next TV rights deals.

NBA Hall of Famer and longtime TNT analyst Charles Barkley says the suspense is getting to his colleagues at the network.

MORE: Philadelphia's busy 2026 will include TED talks, new Mural Arts project

“It just sucks right now for the people I work with,” Barkley said Wednesday morning on "The Starting Lineup" with Frank Isola and Brian Scalabrine. “I’m worried about all the people I work with. I just turned 61. I’ve got enough money.”

TNT, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery Networks, has carried NBA coverage since 1989. The network debuted "Inside the NBA" that year and gradually built out its current lineup. Ernie Johnson has hosted since 1990. Kenny Smith joined the show in 1998. Barkley came on in 2000 after his retirement, and Shaquille O'Neal joined in 2011.

On Wednesday, the Sports Business Journal reported the NBA is formalizing written contracts with Disney, NBC and Amazon to hold exclusive media rights after next season. Under the reported deal, ESPN would pay up to $2.8 billion annually for the league's top package that includes the NBA Finals, a conference final, weekly prime-time games and other rights. NBC would get the secondary package with playoff coverage and weekly prime-time games for up to $2.6 billion. Amazon would pay up to $2 billion for the third tier, which would include the In-Season Tournament, Play-In Tournament and some first-round playoff coverage.

Warner Bros., which pays an average of $1.2 billion annually for its current NBA deal, reportedly will be given an opportunity to match the other contracts' financial terms and coverage plans. That possibility may be unlikely due to the company's debt and the NBA's wish to gain NBC's over-the-air infrastructure, which offers more flexibility and viewership, the report said.

Barkley did not rule out the possibility of moving to a different network, but he added he doubts the show could be replicated outside TNT. He said it's unlikely Johnson would leave TNT.

“I would listen before I made any decisions," Barkley said.

But with his usual humor, the former Sixers star also said he's not concerned about himself.

“I don’t even look at it as getting fired. I look at it like, ‘Damn, I get to play more golf?'" Barkley said.

The Sports Business Journal reported that the near doubling of the price for the NBA's media rights was driven by Disney's insistence on keeping the league's top package, which ensures ESPN and ABC retain the NBA Finals. The company's willingness to pay top dollar during the window for exclusive negotiating rights prompted Warner Bros. to let the second-tier package reach the open market.

In a street interview last week, O'Neal said he felt confident that Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav would "take care of business."

Warner Bros. reportedly may consider legal action depending on the outcome of the deals, which are expected to be finalized in the coming week.