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Can Inside the NBA Stars Keep Show Together if TNT Loses Basketball?



The future is in doubt for Inside the NBA. I have written before that to me, the answer is simple. The league should buy the rights to the show from TNT Sports and make it the pregame show for every NBA game, regardless of what network the league airs on that night. 

Adam Silver has not hidden how he feels about the show. On Thursday night, he offered a direct apology to the TNT Sports employees left hanging in the balance as the league finishes its TV negotiations. Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith aren’t the only ones the NBA Commissioner was referring to, but they are easily the most famous.

While the league taking over the show makes the most sense, I don’t think it’s a realistic outcome. There wouldn’t be extra effort made to keep some games on TNT if Silver and his subordinates had any plans to bring Inside the NBA under the corporate umbrella.

It makes me wonder if Inside the NBA has only one of two fates in front of it. Either the show will be on TNT before whatever amount of games the league can put into a fourth TV package or it will cease to exist entirely.

Sure, another network would like to have the show. Amazon may even be willing to handover a blank check to make the show the centerpiece of its NBA coverage. If that happens though, it seems certain that Amazon would have to find a new host

There has been discussion of making Inside the NBA an independent production. It would be a way to ensure that the show stays together and is able to negotiate from the strongest possible position – as a single unit. 

Charles Barkley has said that he would like for his production company to take over the show if it leaves TNT. It sounds like a simple solution, but is it?

Have you ever heard of SEG? That’s Kenny Smith’s production company. How about Jersey Legends? That’s Shaq’s production company. 

Barkley publicly declared his company’s desire to take over Inside the NBA on The Dan Patrick Show. Just because Smith and O’Neal haven’t said it out loud, doesn’t mean they don’t think the show should go to their production company if it were to hit the open market.

On TV, the three former NBA stars have tremendous chemistry. Whenever any of them or Ernie Johnson are asked about the show, they all say what you see on screen is the same as the relationship behind the scenes. That’s great to hear, but these guys are all human beings. They have egos just like every one else. 

All three have an obvious respect for the role each other fills on the show. No one has to tell Barkley, Smith or O’Neal they are stars. They clearly know it and are secure in being one of four, but there’s no guarantee that dynamic wouldn’t change if one of them suddenly became the boss. There may be no public rift over salary differences right now, but when whoever feels underpaid is negotiating against someone doing the same job they are, it’s not hard to imagine feelings spilling out in a way that effects the quality of the show.

If it comes down to who can pay more, then Shaq’s Jersey Legends is bound to take over. If it comes down to the league or WBD handpicking who they want to sell to, then all bets are off.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the relationship between Barkley, O’Neal and Smith is strong enough to survive a major change in their relationship dynamic. I hope so, because I really like Inside the NBA and want it to stick around.

Until the league office says something definitive about TNT’s basketball future, all we can do is speculate. An extended period of uncertainty can lead the mind to wander, and that’s not always a good thing. 

The league knows what’s at stake if it doesn’t stay in business with TNT. Shaq could go to ESPN. He already has a relationship with Disney. Barkley could leave TV entirely. That’s why Adam Silver needs to have a plan. 

Maybe the NBA won’t be in business with TNT and WBD anymore, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of Inside the NBA. I still think the league taking over production is the best way to ensure that happens. If that isn’t going to happen though, Silver at least needs to be able to lay out clearly what is going to happen so that we don’t lose the best studio show on sports television to an unfortunate power struggle.

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