Basketball fans were panicked over Charles Barkley flirting with LIV Golf this summer, but Shaquille O’Neal would have supported the move.
Last month, Barkley admitted he was meeting with LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman about a possible media role with the controversial Saudi-funded league. Barkley took the meeting knowing that a partnership with LIV Golf would have probably ended his tenure at Turner Sports and Inside the NBA.
“I don’t even know if they’ll let me do it. I might have to resign from TNT,” Barkley said last month as he spoke about meeting with LIV. But Barkley was still willing to risk his job with Inside the NBA for LIV’s deep pockets and his TNT co-star Shaquille O’Neal was supportive of that.
“Charles is a dear friend. I would’ve supported him every which way,” O’Neal said about Barkley’s flirtation with LIV Golf during an interview with USA Today. “Charles is one of those legends, like Bill Russell, who didn’t make a lot of money playing. So if a chance comes up like this at this age that’s legal – controversial but legal – you’ve got to look at it. If he had accepted it, I wouldn’t be mad. And if Charles had left? You’d still have me.”
O’Neal made more than $286 million on the court during his career, Barkley’s NBA salary earnings were just over $40 million. That’s not exactly in the Bill Russell category as O’Neal said, but it’s still a far cry from the quarter billion-dollar contracts NBA teams hand out with ease today.
As Barkley watches lesser players earn more than ten times what he did in their careers, LIV Golf represented a potential opportunity for Barkley to recoup some of what he missed out on by playing in the ’90s. Despite LIV Golf being financed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, a government known for committing brutal human rights violations, Barkley made it clear that he was in it for the money, regardless of where it came from.
Ultimately, Barkley decided not to pursue a partnership with LIV Golf beyond his meeting with Norman, and the basketball Hall-of-Famer will return to Inside the NBA this season. But considering Barkley’s affinity for money, and LIV’s surplus of cash, who’s to say their talks won’t eventually be rekindled? And if they do restart, it doesn’t seem like O’Neal will mind.
Inside the NBA fans would “still have” O’Neal, but O’Neal without Barkley just doesn’t have the same appeal. Barkley, Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith spent more than a decade together on Inside the NBA before O’Neal joined the show as its fourth teammate. And while O’Neal has provided many viral moments since joining the show in 2011, most of them feature his response to something Barkley did or said.