Its Future in Doubt, the Freewheeling ‘Inside the NBA’ Is on Edge Instead

The future of “Inside the NBA” was already a sensitive topic when Charles Barkley stepped into an elevator after Game 3 of the Western Conference finals late Friday night. Barkley’s on-air candor as an analyst is a key reason that the studio show has become so influential and beloved among basketball fans and around the league.

But these are tense times for the show and those who work on it. Warner Bros. Discovery has not secured the rights to continue broadcasting N.B.A. games on TNT beyond next season. Without those, the long-term future of “Inside the N.B.A.” is uncertain. So when Barkley, who had already batted away several attempts by security and public relations officials to prevent him from doing an interview, ushered me into an elevator filled with his co-workers, not everyone was happy.

Kenny Smith, Barkley’s on-screen foil, voiced his irritation. But Barkley, as he has done throughout his decades in the public eye, made clear that he wouldn’t be muzzled.

“Hey man, I can talk to who I want to,” Barkley said to Smith, using an expletive. Others in the elevator shifted uncomfortably.

“You should do that out there,” Smith said, suggesting the interview be done outside the elevator.

Barkley turned to me: “Don’t worry about him.”

“She should clear it through Turner,” Smith said. “She should do it the right way.”

Why was it so important for him to talk, I asked Barkley, even if others around him didn’t want him to? He nodded to the impact the uncertainty has on staff members who work on the show. And not just the well-known, on-air personalities: Barkley, Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and the host, Ernie Johnson.

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