The 2019-2020 NBA season is upon us. How will one of the most interesting and unpredictable offseason’s be paid off? Well, starting tonight the talking is over and we’re on a road to finding out.
Most Americans will turn to TNT this season when they want someone to make sense of the league’s biggest stories or see some of its biggest matchups. This is the 30th anniversary of the network being in the basketball business, and that deserves to be celebrated.
We’re not going to lay out a retrospective of all three decades. Hell, outside of the “Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday!” song, there wasn’t much notable about TNT’s NBA coverage until the year 2000. That is when the show that put the network in heavy rotation for NBA fans was launched.
Today, we are going to take a look at Inside the NBA. This isn’t a history of the show. Four of us here at Barrett Sports Media are going to look at what makes the show great by looking at what makes each of its four stars great.
In an industry where everyone has an opinion about everything and everyone, no one has much bad to say about Inside the NBA. That is a testament to the men and women both in front of and behind the camera, but for today, let’s focus on the men we see before, during, and after every game on TNT.
JUST THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF WIT, SARCASM AND PROFESSIONALISM: ANDY MASUR ON ERNIE JONSON
While many may think it’s, Kenny, Shaq and Charles that make Inside the NBA the show it is, I disagree. It’s all about having a quality, well-seasoned, witty and capable host. It’s all about Ernie Johnson. Let me tell you why.
As a studio host it’s not easy to just walk onto a set and be tremendous. Johnson has the added task of working with big personalities who have not been trained as broadcasters. That’s what makes this show, hosted by Johnson so special.
He is among the best studio hosts around. Johnson handles the three ringed circus with just the right amount of wit, sarcasm and professionalism to make it all work. I love the fact that he doesn’t take himself too seriously and allows the “players” to be the stars of the show. Johnson isn’t afraid to laugh at himself either which is a tremendous quality. If he’s not there to act as the traffic cop, the show would run itself out of control. Inside the NBA wouldn’t work without Johnson.
When you are working with some “wildcards” that have varying opinions and varying ways of expressing them, as a host you’ve got to be ready for everything. It’s very easy to tell that Johnson comes well prepared for every show. Sometimes he needs to jump in to make sure that facts are presented correctly and Johnson does this in such a way as to not look like he’s correcting one of his teammates. That is an art form and I’m sure appreciated by the guys on the set with him.
Johnson has been around the game of basketball for quite some time and knows a lot about the NBA. He is smart enough though, to defer to the guys that played it at the highest level, when it comes to breaking down a game. His knowledge allows him to nudge the guys in the right direction, with excellent follow up questions or analogies. It’s fun to watch.
Johnson is a versatile broadcaster, which allows him to transition from the NBA to the NCAA Tournament pretty seamlessly during the run up to the Final Four. Even when paired with different people on set, he just continues to do what he does and makes the shows flow like he’s worked with them for years. That is not easy to do.
HE’S NOT CHANGING FOR ANYONE: JASON BARRETT ON CHARLES BARKLEY
Honest, fearless, comedic and spontaneous are the first four words I think of when it comes to Charles Barkley. For nearly twenty years basketball fans have enjoyed his raw and unfiltered approach on Inside The NBA, making the show a must-watch. It hasn’t mattered that the league enjoys a business relationship with TNT or that players have friendships with Charles because if he has an opinion, it’s being delivered with a purpose, and if it ruffles a few feathers in the process so be it.
Though his lack of structure may drive executives nuts at times, it’s Chuck’s off the rails and unpredictable style that helps make Inside The NBA one of the best sports shows on television. Another attraction is the cast’s authenticity and credibility. Their experiences are well documented and their discussions are honest, funny and spirited. That helps the viewer feel like they’re watching four well known respected friends talk about the NBA and providing a mixture of laughs, insights and unscripted ball busting in the process.
If there’s an attribute that sometimes gets undervalued it’s Charles’ ability to be self-deprecating. We love his strong opinions and willingness to venture into odd conversations, but he’s also more than comfortable being the butt of the joke. When laughter ensues on this show, it’s impossible to change the channel. One minute Charles may butcher a foreign player’s name, the next he’s either losing his train of thought during a commentary or taking part in a produced bit that leaves you in stitches.
Not many personalities on the air today can piss off NBA executives by telling viewers a particular game is bad or an NBA service isn’t worth paying for, but the league is wise enough to recognize this is who Charles Barkley is and he’s not changing for anyone. When you combine his credentials as a hall of fame basketball player and his larger than life unique personality with the team of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, you have a sports television show that’s first in class and the envy of every other sports network.
HARDLY JUST A GLUE GUY: JACK FERRIS ON KENNY SMITH
“Glue Guy” is a term tossed around in sports to describe a teammate who may not be the biggest star, may not have the best resume and flat out may not be a house hold name. He is, however, a locker room guy, everyone’s friend. The proverbial straw that stirs the drink. While this might be a relatively accurate description – Kenny “the Jet” Smith is hardly just a “Glue Guy.”
If Ernie is the point guard, Chuck the power forward and Shaq the center – Kenny is without question the team’s versatile shooting guard/small forward.
Consider your typical halftime show. Ernie will welcome the audience and distribute to his three analysts as he sees fit. If a marquee big man is struggling or excelling – he’ll look to Shaq for comment. If a player or team is disproving an adamant point Chuck made in the pregame, he’ll lob it over to the quote machine. You might see one, both or neither of these happen in any NBA on TNT halftime show – one thing you can always count on is Kenny’s Big Board.
Kenny’s Big Board, outside of being a tool to show off the comically large set, is arguably the most insightful element the best NBA studio show has to offer. Whether it’s guards going under screens, big men not rotating fast enough, or just flat out bad shooting – Kenny will show you exactly why the first half of a game played out how it did. The bells and whistles of the segment are always impressive – but it’s Kenny who shines as he points out small details the casual NBA fan would never notice. It’s well known that Inside the NBA is built on personality, but it’s these moments that offer the best analysis in what might be the best studio show in sports television.
As for each show’s inevitable off-the-rails banter, Kenny Smith easily holds his own. When Chuck is making a point, the Jet knows exactly what to say to antagonize the star of the show. More times than not – it’s merely reminding Barkley of a different point he made the day before that completely discredits his current rant. He may not have the MVPs or the hall of fame credentials of his counterparts, but Kenny is well armed with the ultimate equalizer in NBA debates – two rings. And no, it’s not his fault Jordan left the league for two years.
Kenny may not make the controversial statement that runs through the media cycle the next day – but his knowledge of the game and Chuck’s head make him an invaluable member of the squad.
A GIANT GOOFBALL, A KID AT HEART: DEMETRI RAVANOS ON SHAQUILLE O’NEAL
There isn’t a guy alive in my generation that didn’t look at Shaquille O’Neal with absolute wonder and awe when we were kids. We all wanted to be like Mike. We knew no matter what we did, we’d never be like Shaq…at least on the court.
Off the court, Shaq was just like us, and he’s still just like us. How can a physical freak also fill the role of Inside the NBA’s everyman? It’s because Shaq is a giant goofball, a kid at heart that is as shocked by the spoils his profession has brought him as anyone watching is.
Shaq can explain how the role of the big man has changed. He can point out when someone is dogging it on defense. He can do both by making jokes at the expense of his work ethic or free throw shooting. That isn’t when he is most valuable to this show.
Inside the NBA gets the most out of Shaq when he is dancing with the Jabawokees or when he is eating the world’s hottest chips. He is comfortable in the role of basketball’s clown prince because he operates from a place of emotion. Sometimes that leads to genuine hostility with Charles Barkley or his other co-workers, but Shaq shows up to the studio looking to have a good time and more often than not, he does and so do the people around him.
Pregame and halftime shows across all sports are built on fake laughter. That is what makes Shaq and Inside the NBA a welcome and needed change of pace. His smile and laugh are infectious. Seeing someone that size, that legendary in his sport genuinely having fun is genuinely fun.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.