The end of the conference playoffs also marked the end to another glorious, yet (sadly) undeniably flawed season of Inside The NBA. But, thanks to a prolonged Eastern Conference Finals, we were blessed with a few extra nights of Ernie, Charles, Kenny…and Shaq. Oh, Shaq.
At some point, Turner producers have to pull the plug on this uncomfortable mess, right? It’s been two years of chemistry-killing shenanigans from the Big Fella, and, on the show’s final night, he delivered a diss to Chuck that we’d be generous in calling “sophomoric”.
Later, Chuck fired back with a never-not-funny slam on Shaq’s star turn in Kazaam.
Let’s ignore last night’s barbs for now, and face reality: Shaq on TNT isn’t working. And it was always destined for failure, though. Heading into the Shaq experiment, not enough people made note of the fact that what made Shaq so great with the media was that he wasn’t part of the media. He provided great sound bites, gave funny interviews, danced at All-Star games, assigned himself goofy nicknames, etc. He was tolerable on random appearances on Inside during his playing days, and many people thought weekly doses of it would be a slam dunk. So much for that notion.
At this point, it’s painfully obvious that Ernie can’t stand him (go back and watch this incredibly awkward All-Star Weekend segment) and Chuck is darn close to throwing a basketball at his head again (admit it, you want to see it happen, for old times’ sake at least). Meanwhile, Kenny just keeps his mouth shut because it’s not worth the time and energy.
Let’s review what Shaq brings to the table: constant reminders of his four championship rings, the inarguable fact that he had the best career out of the three players sitting behind the Inside desk, and the fact that “actin'” rhymes with “Shaqtin'”. All of those things are the antithesis of what made the show great for a decade prior to his arrival.
There was always perfect synergy on set, pre-Shaq. Over their careers, Charles Barkley was undeniably the better player between he and Kenny Smith. But Kenny has two championship rings (something Barkley never achieved, obviously), which, to a certain degree, evened out the playing field between the two. Once every blue moon, or so, Kenny would pick a moment to remind Chuck that he’s the one with two rings. But they were playful reminders that never seemed forced.
Example: when Kenny dumped champagne on Chuck after winning another Emmy, did anyone stop, roll their eyes, and think “we get it, Kenny, you have two rings”? Nope! We loved every bit of it, because it’s the one thing he has over Chuck, as a player. But he’s smart about not beating that point like a dead horse, because he knows his audience isn’t stupid. We know how their careers played out. And we like it when he does that, because it’s never predicated on anything except for the fact they have an (often) unspoken respect for each other as players, and they time their jabs well.
In Shaq’s case, his rebuttals to Chuck’s points often consist of awkward denials, followed by a stone face, while holding up four fingers. Add in his relentless criticism of today’s interior players (whether warranted or not), and it reveals a guy who is freakishly insecure about his place in history. Now that he has a weekly pulpit, he uses it to remind everyone of the player he was, almost as if we’ve forgotten about it already. Kenny retired in 1997, Barkley in 1999. We haven’t forgotten them, and we don’t need reminders.
Back in February, while the media was fawning over Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday during All-Star Weekend, Charles Barkley quietly celebrated his 50th with a fantastic one-on-one interview with Ernie Johnson. It was a perfect encapsulation of a person who is content with his place in history, both as a player, and post-career — no rings, one controversial MVP award, one of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game, and the most important talking head in sports today.
Watching Shaq fumble his way through another season of Inside makes you appreciate Barkley and his dynamic with Kenny and Ernie even more. Hopefully, this experiment is one we won’t have to live with for much longer.