Charles Barkley says he's retiring, but this story doesn't feel over

It can be argued pretty persuasively that Charles Barkley has had the greatest combination of a professional playing and broadcasting career in the history of American sports.

As a Hall of Fame and MVP-winning player, he was named to both the NBA’s Top 50 and Top 75 all-time teams, while now he has become arguably the best sports studio analyst in history.

On Friday, during an NBA TV appearance after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Barkley said next year will be his final one as a broadcaster on TV.

“I ain’t going nowhere other than TNT,” Barkley said on NBA TV. “But I have made the decision myself that, no matter what happens, next year is going to be my last year on television.”

If Barkley is truly hanging it up, he will have a place next to Howard Cosell and John Madden as analysts in the modern era of sports broadcasting, crossing over as an icon in American culture. His combo of play on the court and his work on TV will rank him with the Frank Giffords of yesteryear and the Michael Strahans of today on a list of greatest athlete/broadcaster careers ever.

That all said, will he actually retire? We’ll see. Maybe.

Barkley, 61, sounded sincere in his comments Friday, but he has talked about retiring forever. The former goal was 60, which he blew by with a decade-long contract that approached Tony Romo’s $180 million territory. After next season, he will have seven years left on that deal.

What has changed since he inked the contract is that TNT Sports, home to Barkley’s legendary “Inside the NBA,” may not have the NBA following next season.

The NBA is moving toward the legal paperwork on 11-year TV rights agreements worth in the $76 billion range with ESPN, NBC and Amazon Prime Video. Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav has said that TNT could try to match one of these offers, while the network is still holding out hope for the NBA to come back with a smaller fourth package of games for it to continue.

If TNT can somehow sink their half-court shot, it seems very plausible that Barkley could change his mind to continue with host Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith. However, if they don’t, Barkley could be enticed to reconsider his words from Friday.

ESPN, Amazon and NBC all have interest in Barkley, and Barkley said he has already talked to all of them.

If NBC and Amazon finalize their agreements, it would make sense to give themselves instant credibility by trying to bring in the whole “Inside The NBA” crew, or just Barkley, if that fearsome foursome couldn’t be had.

However, what really seems more plausible is ESPN refusing to let Barkley say no. In the new TV agreements, ESPN will continue broadcasting the finals for another 11 years after next season.

Charles Barkley

However it ends, Charles Barkley will have posted one of the greatest player/broadcaster combined careers in sports history. (Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

A sweetheart deal for Barkley to do the opening night of the regular season and then the playoffs would be a win-win for everyone. Barkley would not have to work as hard and would continue to make millions while gracing the ESPN studio shows, lifting them up during the biggest games of the season, including the finals.

Meanwhile, TNT does have its contract with Barkley, where he is supposed to, for example, be on its March Madness coverage of the NCAA Tournament. Even if Barkley had not made his announcement, fleeing to his next employer may not have been as clean as just saying, “I want to go” as he is so valuable to TNT, even as he skewers Zaslav for potentially fumbling the NBA negotiations.

“We’re looking forward to another fantastic NBA on TNT season and further discussion of our future plans with (Barkley),” TNT Sports said in a statement Saturday.

It is also hard to see Barkley go because — what is he going to do? The man is a talker. He cuts through because he is the same on the air as he is off and treats his former best friend Michael Jordan just as he would you or I. That is the secret sauce of Barkley — there is sincerity without a filter. He will seemingly talk whenever to whomever and whatever.

Just last month, on ESPN Cleveland, he said he was open for business to talk about other offers. Now, he says he has changed his mind.

Maybe Barkley goes, but he is still going to be talking. Hard to see why he wouldn’t want to continue to make some more millions.



TNT Sports’ boss said they didn’t need the NBA — we’re about to find out

(Photo of Charles Barkley at the NBA Finals: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)

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