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

The NBA’s media rights deal is up for grabs, and with NBC reportedly offering nearly twice what Warner Bros. Discovery paid annually, the future of Inside the NBA on TNT hangs in the balance. The uncertainty surrounding the broadcasting rights has cast a shadow over the show itself while raising concerns about the on-air talent’s future as well.

There, Charles Barkley quelled any concerns about his own immediate future. He suggested that he could leave TNT if it loses its NBA rights. But there’s no telling what it means for Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny “The Jet” Smith, among others.

On Thursday, Sports Business Journal’s Tom Friend reported that Johnson is likely to stick with TNT Sports even if they lose the NBA rights. And that’s largely because Johnson’s value goes beyond the NBA. He’s a key figure in other properties there, including leading their studio coverage for March Madness and having experience with Major League Baseball on TBS.

Here’s more on that from SBJ’s reporting:

Johnson did not respond to an interview request Thursday, but sources said the reason he is staying at WBD is mostly loyalty. “He is Turner Sports. Period,” a source said.

Additional reporting from Friend suggests that a full cast reunion on a new network like ESPN, NBC, or Amazon seems unlikely. Sources cited by SBJ suggest Shaq might not be interested in returning to a similar TV role due to his commitments with his own production studio, his presidency of Reebok Basketball, and his various business ventures with franchises like Five Guys and Papa John’s.

There was also another interesting tidbit about Barkley’s immediate future, which is not tied to TNT:

ESPN has long been intrigued by Barkley, and its Chair, Jimmy Pitaro, has been open about trying to replicate “Inside the NBA.” “Pitaro used to say, ‘How the f*** do they have the greatest show on television?'” a source said. NBC could also pursue Barkley, considering the chair of NBCUniversal’s media group, Mark Lazarus, used to work alongside Barkley at Turner.

It obviously remains to be seen how everything shakes out. But if this ends with anyone other than TNT getting the rights, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Inside the NBA.


About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.