Around the NBA - 11/01/10

November 1, 2010
Nick Matkovich



The dawn of another NBA season means a myriad of things to different people. While questions mount and optimism wanes after the first sub 500 road trip, it's important to hold true to the staples that keep us interested from October through June.

In this, the first week of November, the basketball audience is already well-ensconced in the pure analytical bliss of "The NBA on TNT."

The three-letter league, on the three-letter network with the three-man team is the best studio show in professional sports.

The stalwarts reveal themselves in the form of Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith. The trio drives the show, lending a sense of bare-knuckles honesty to the program. The fourth seat, occupied by Chris Webber, Magic Johnson, Reggie Miller and a bevy of others is a fairly irrelevant spot and it's no fault of their own. Barkley, Johnson, and Smith have such a good give-and-take with one another that the fourth seat is the random guy at the end of the bar. Aside from asking yourself why a random guy is sitting by himself in a bar as you move your wallet from your back pocket to the front, you know he's good for an occasional comment, but you mainly talk to him in passing. The star power rests in the NBA's longest running version of The Big Three.

All three share an honesty and outrageousness that pairs Statler and Waldorf from "The Muppet Show" with the barbershop scene from "Coming to America." Though none of the three throw tomatoes at guests that make their way into the studio, nor has Barkley spoken about meeting the 176-year-old Joe Louis, no show provides such an entertaining format that envelopes games.

What exists is a natural bravado, one-upsmanship, and the rarely exhibited mix of humor saturated with the truth that all three put on display, most notably Barkley. None of them wear the serious face of doom and gloom storytelling that some broadcasters make their scratch from.

The same person who detested the idea of being a role model as a marketing campaign directed at the counter-culture types who wanted gym shoes, Barkley has assumed the position for ex-players hoping to carve their niche in broadcasting.

Unfortunately, those in Barkley's position have a proclivity to be nice instead of honest. No one likes to step on anyone's toes because honesty and genuine feelings may come across as caustic. For Barkley, there are no shrink-wrapped, self-contained opinions. He threw out the cookie cutter opinion maker that media outlets prefer that their personalities use to keep things safe and stale.

While the association winces at some of Barkley's comments, no rush to mute his opinions exists, nor has there been anyone enforcing him to practice buttoned-down commentary. If that were the case, I have a feeling Barkley would cook up a bunch of expletives and inform them he's going to work elsewhere.

Speaking of work, (What a great transition Nick!) Barkley has done little to hide his future career aspirations to run for governor of Alabama or run an NBA team in some capacity. These long-standing future career choices strait-jacket people into being nice and practicing the largest disservice any personality or opinion-maker can exhibit: holding back.

Holding back doesn't exist in Barkley's lexicon. In Thursday's pregame show, TNT ran an interview with number one draft pick John Wall. The Washington Wizard declared the Wizards have a feasible goal of making the playoffs as the number eight seed. Barkley said he (Wall) will miss playing at Kentucky this season. He enhanced that statement by saying that Wall has never gone up against competition this good. With that competition comes an adjustment period.

The mix of humor and analysis drips through the entire broadcast. Smith referred to the Wizards as the Washington Generals after their poor first half against the Orlando Magic. Johnson led off halftime show of the Suns Jazz game mentioning the cascade of boos directed towards the Jazz from their hometown faithful at Energy Solutions Arena.

Dare I say that the three actually have fun together in the studio? No one is jockeying for their next job or hesitant to say anything in fear of damaging the relationship between the league and the network. The journalists are doing their job and providing commentary. No hiding behind the Jerry West logo in fear of a comeuppance from the league office and to be fair, the league does an outstanding of not trying to police newscasters or journalists. The warts-and-all coverage gives fans a much more intimate look at the league than what the other professional leagues provide.

What reveals itself in this equation is that no calf is too fatted and no goose too golden for Barkley and Smith to speak candidly about. The brand of truth-telling may be dying in some parts of the national media, but it's a good thing Barkley, Johnson, and Smith are handling the defibrillators in earnest attempts to resuscitate the fun in commentary.

Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.