February 20, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; TNT broadcaster Ernie Johnson Jr. after the 2022 NBA All-Star Game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On-air, TNT’s Inside the NBA hasn’t been shy to joke about its uncertain future.

Behind the scenes, however, it appears the mood around the NBA’s premier studio show has been much more tense.

That was evident in Tania Ganguli’s recent reporting for The New York Times, which described the vibe around the show during the Western Conference Finals as “on edge.” Perhaps the most enlightening part of her story wasn’t the actual information she gleaned from an interview with Charles Barkley, but rather the effort it took to secure said interview, which co-host Kenny Smith attempted to talk the Hall of Fame power forward out of participating in.

“Hey, man, I can talk to who I want to,” Barkley said to Smith, using an expletive, according to Ganguli.

Despite Smith’s objections, Barkley completed the interview, explaining why he feels it’s important for him to speak out with so many jobs — not just the talent’s, but also the production crew’s — on the line. Following the interview, Ganguli faced another hurdle, with Inside the NBA host Ernie Johnson admonishing her for approaching Barkley for an interview.

“Approached for an interview, Johnson pointed me to the public relations team. TNT had declined to arrange interviews with its talent for this article,” Ganguli wrote. “After the game, Johnson interrupted the interview with Barkley as he left the elevator to castigate me for approaching him without permission from the company.”

As noted by Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz, there are several factors at play here, perhaps the biggest of which is that while TNT losing its NBA rights appears to be inevitable, it’s also not officially a done deal. As such, it makes sense for executives to attempt to protect its talent from anything that might impact any ongoing negotiations.

The flip side, however, is that if Barkley isn’t only willing to talk, but actively wants to, there’s no reason a reporter shouldn’t be able to arrange such an interview. If Johnson has an issue with Barkley being interviewed, his issue should seemingly be with Barkley and not the reporter doing her job.

Perhaps the bigger story here isn’t what Barkley said, but rather that the uncertainty surrounding the show’s future resulted in the typically mild mannered Johnson scolding a reporter. To her credit, Ganguli made the most of the obstacles presented to her, which said just as much about the mood around the show as any interview answers could have.

[New York Times]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.