The best studio show in sports television history will stay intact for the next couple of years.
At its upfront event today at Madison Square Garden, Turner Sports will announce that Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith—the quartet that makes up TNT’s Inside the NBA—have signed multi-year extensions with the company.
The news is particularly significant given Barkley has told Sports Illustrated repeatedly over the years that he thought it would be a struggle to complete his current contract when it expired in 2016. Now NBA fans will see him long past that date. Turner would not release information about the lengths of the extensions, but it’s likely in the 4-5 year range for most.
O’Neal joined the studio show in 2011 following a 19-year NBA career and his first few years on Inside the NBA were, to be generous, a work in progress. But O’Neal has improved yearly, and one of his best qualities is his ability to make fun of himself. Turner Sports executives like the chemistry he’s developed with the longtime trio of Barkley (16th year as an analyst), Johnson (26th year as an NBA host on TNT) and Smith (18th year as a studio analyst for TNT) and committed to him with this extension.
But Barkley is the show’s star, and one thing the 52-year-old has made clear is that he’s not working past 60. "Anyone who works past 60 is an idiot (laughs),” Barkley said to SI.com last month. “I want to travel the world. Listen, man, if people want to keep working that’s fine. But there is going to come an age when you can’t do stuff and have fun. So why would I want to keep working until the day I die? You should save your money. Learn to tell your family and friends no. One of the great travesties in sports is 70% of professional athletes go broke. It’s a joke and it pisses me off. But I tell all my friends who don’t play sports, 'Who wants to work when you are 65 or 70?' Sixty is my magic number. I just turned 52 and I’m not working past 60.”
Turner said Inside the NBA is frequently the second most-watched program on cable throughout the NBA playoffs, trailing only live game coverage.