With Turner and ESPN taking over NHL rights starting next season, both companies needed to beef up their roster of analysts.
In the end, Turner made probably the biggest splash, adding Wayne Gretzky. Regardless of how Gretzky performs in the role, when you can add the greatest player to ever play a sport to a crew, you have to do that, and Turner was able to coax Gretzky out of the Edmonton Oilers front office and into the studio.
According to Gretzky himself, Turner had a prime recruiter: Charles Barkley. Gretzky revealed that in a radio interview this week:
“Charles Barkley is a good friend, and he called me every single day and said, ‘This will be fun for you’,” Gretzky told Sportsnet 590 in Toronto on Friday, “and ultimately I decided, OK, this is something I’ve got to try and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be exciting.”
For anyone hoping that Gretzky might have a similarly freewheeling approach to Charles and the Inside the NBA crew, well, you’re probably going to be disappointed. But Gretzky noted that would be inauthentic, which is certainly never the right approach to take for anyone in broadcasting. That’s what makes Barkley so special; simply trying to emulate that doesn’t work at all.
“I love everything about our game, and I told everyone at Turner and Charles, ‘Look, I’m not a controversial guy. I’m not going to be that guy that’s going to be so negative on players. I’m the exact opposite, so if you’re looking for that guy, I’m not the right guy.’
“People have said to me … what are you going to do, what are you going to be like? I’m going to be Wayne Gretzky. I’m going to be forthright. I feel like I know the game, I feel like I respect the game and I’m just really excited about being part of it again.”
This shouldn’t be a real surprise for anyone who knows Gretzky; he’s never been a controversial figure. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a solid analyst. Plus, you know, he’s the Great One. But if it does work out, Turner owes a debt to Gretzky’s celebrity golf circuit buddy Barkley for bringing him on board.