The best rivalry in basketball might be off the court, with Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley regularly battling on the set of Inside the NBA.
Host Ernie Johnson joined the Dan Patrick Show this week, to discuss The Match and the NBA Playoffs. During the interview, Patrick asked Johnson how he manages tempering the alpha personalities of O’Neal and Barkley.
“You have the moment where it feels like Shaq and Charles are getting personal and this happened the other night, where it felt like it was a little more personal with each other out in San Francisco,” Patrick noted. But according to Johnson, despite what we see on TV, the tense dynamic between O’Neal and Barkley never gets out of hand.
“They actually are great friends,” Johnson said, explaining that even their families and moms were close. “The guys love each other. Sure it gets heated sometimes, and when you’re trying to decide or defend your point, yeah it gets a little heated. But I’ve never thought, ‘Uh oh this is out of control.’”
Johnson admitted he has a “bogus anchor laugh” in his back pocket that he uses to diffuse any tension during a heated exchange. “Then you realize, there was really nothing to diffuse, it’s just TV,” Johnson explained. “But obviously social media after that says, ‘oh they’re ready to throw hands.’ And it really isn’t.”
Both enshrined by the Basketball Hall-of-Fame, O’Neal and Barkley were fierce competitors on the court and that competitive nature still shows itself in the studio on occasion. But O’Neal usually gets the last laugh, considering he has four NBA championship rings, and Barkley is without a title.
“I always know that any disagreement is about to end when that’s brought up,” Johnson said. “That’s like Shaq’s last line of defense.”
Johnson might be confident that O’Neal and Barkley are close to crossing the line of a friendly debate in studio, but it’s not like we haven’t seen them throw hands before. In 1999, with Barkley near the end of his NBA career, he threw a basketball at O’Neal’s head and the Lakers center responded by throwing a punch. A “brouhaha,” as categorized by Kevin Harlan.
But that competitive spirit, alpha mentality, and genuine love they have for each other, as described by Johnson, combines to make Inside the NBA the most entertaining studio show in sports.