In anticipation of NBA All-Star weekend in New Orleans, Awful Announcing caught up with Turner Sports’ and NBATV’s Brent Barry, who discussed Sunday’s All-Star game, his experience as a dunk contest winner in 1996, why Serge Ibaka will be so important for the Toronto Raptors and more.
Barry will also be a lead host and broadcaster in Turner’s Players Only series of telecasts, which begin on Feb. 27.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Why should we watch this All-Star game? There’s never any defense. What’s your case for watching on Sunday?
I’m not campaigning that you watch the game, you’re either a fan of the game or you’re not, but my favorite moment is these guys taking the court for warm-ups and I used to love when they used to all wear their team sweats and it was cool to see all the different logos and colors and see all of these guys on the same team our warming up and getting ready to play. Just so many memories flood in about what they’ve done through their careers or through the season, and old mixed with new and just that moment is always something that gets me excited about [the game] as a fan.
The game always has its moments going down to the fourth quarter and when guys start to play a little bit, but it’s just more of a celebration, I think, of the game. I always love the layup lines and it’s really pretty spectacular.
I think the biggest reason why people might watch the game is the interpersonal dynamic between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Do you think there’s actually bad blood between those two?
I don’t think there’s anything that says that they’re getting along really well. There’s more indications of what you’re referring to with some disturbance in the force rather than those guys really having an understanding of one another. And that’s okay. Even when Steve Kerr’s alluding to those sort of things half joking but half serious, then there has to be something to it.
Obviously, when ESPN is traveling to Oklahoma City to cover a regular season game, the media has done a little bit more to promote the soap opera of it all and put a little more drama into it. But there will be something fascinating about how Steve handles what it is that’s going to happen. I don’t know. I think if there’s any guy that can probably navigate these waters, if it wasn’t Pop, that the next best guy would be Steve to have a little fun with it, but also to sort of respect what’s going on between those guys.
Going to Saturday night, you won the dunk contest way back when in 1996. And then you see last year’s dunk contest, which I think was the best dunk contest we’ve ever had…
Yeah, probably the best one since Michael and Dominique [in 1988] in Chicago.
Do you think in your dunking prime, that you’d be able to compete with these modern players like Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon from last year?
No. I mean that’s kind of the point. What these guys are able to do and how high they get up? No. So I guess I was born at the right time? We can stick with that. I was born appropriately. And maybe I picked the right year.
What’s it like as a competitor? You’re out on the court, the entire world is watching and you have to go out and put on your best dunk performance. What’s that like?
It’s a solitary feeling. The one thing you have going for you is that you’re pretty jacked up, tons of adrenaline flowing. Maybe you’re so juiced up that you may have a little extra spring in your step and you may try to do something because you’re feeling good that might come from creative juices flowing, knowing your body’s giving you more than what you’re used to. And that’s always fun to see spontaneity and creativity all of a sudden from guys. But yeah, it’s a nervous time and an exciting time, and things have gotten a lot more choreographed over the course of the last five to 10 dunk contests. Props and gospel choirs and cars being brought in, so it’s taken on a little bit of a different life.
Like you mentioned, last year was about as authentic a contest as we’ve had in a long time. And it was awesome to see those guys get after it. And I wish Zach was back in it again, unfortunately he won’t be because of his injury and he wasn’t going to participate anyway. We’ll see how it goes.
Every year, the same questions come up about the dunk contest and what’s going on. And I think what happened over a period of time is there was this cycle about “you want to have the big name guys in the dunk contest” and when they’re not in then the dunk contest sucks. And then you have guys on the air saying “well the dunk contest is no good.” Why would if the big guys or the name guys aren’t going to be in it, why would the other guys go into it with the type of negative feedback that the dunk contest tends to get? I mean like 85 percent of it is negative and 15 percent of it is good, and there’s always this shock and awe from analysts or people that watch the dunk contest if it’s a good one, because they’re expecting so much bad.
The message that’s been sent out has sort of hurt the idea of the dunk contest, I think, for a long time. And a lot of that last year kind of got swept away in that Toronto storm with how good it was. And I was very thankful. As a fan, we were very thankful for that.
Just a couple of questions on current NBA events. How do you think the Kevin Love injury will impact the Cavs over the next six to eight weeks?
I think this is a compounding situation. Because with Kevin Love not there and with what LeBron James has been doing with regards to his workload, and a key piece in J.R. Smith having not— it doesn’t seem like he’s going to be on the court anytime soon— Cleveland has a very interesting month and a half to navigate. And whether or not being the number one seed, holding on to the number one seed, is the most important thing to them. Obviously Golden State is going to have the best record, unless something catastrophic happens to them.
And so this time off for their coaching staff and for their management to think about what they can do with the roster, looking ahead to the calendar and maybe figuring out when the best chances are for them to get some rest in for certain guys as they rehab Kevin Love and J.R. Smith to get them back into the lineup.
I it think will be fascinating to watch. And we’ve already seen one domino fall with the way Toronto made the move to get [Serge] Ibaka. And you wonder if Boston feels like they need to do, or want to do, something as well. Because maybe Cleveland’s not going to be I guess as bulletproof as we thought going into the playoffs as we did, obviously, when the season started. Or even 10 days ago.
That leads into my next question about Serge Ibaka and the trade Toronto made. It was a splashy move, but how much does it make the Raptors better?
A lot of people want to go right to the move itself and then they start going on and on and droning on about salary implications. Look. Serge is going to be with the team for the next couple of months. What does he do for the ballclub?
Well, he offers a ton of versatility for Dwane Casey that they haven’t had at the forward position, or that they have had in Patrick Patterson, but Patrick doesn’t provide the defense. So you have one really good, underrated player in Patrick Patterson and it impacts them greatly as a guy off the bench that can shoot the three and stretch you out. But now you’re adding Serge’s defense to the mix, where you’re going to be able to, in certain matchups, use the two of those guys potentially together with [Jonas] Valanciunas off the floor as a mobile, quick rebounding piece [to make] more of a dynamic rebounding team.
But there’s versatility in the Ibaka move that I think helps them out and gives Norman Powell an opportunity for two months to learn what it’s like to come into a flow of game consistently. Where he can some nights be scoring and some nights do what he does very well, and that’s be a good perimeter defender.