Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Inside the NBA- A RoundBall Perspective

NBA on TNT saturday night live

Inside the NBA: 

What it is, Why it’s the Best, and One MASSIVE Problem…

Pete Certo

Everyone knows that Inside the NBA on TNT is the best basketball show out there today.  It has been for years and the multiple Emmy Awards the show has garnered only reinforce this.  I give credit to ESPN who have been adjusting and trying to fine tune their studio show lineup to compete, but it just doesn't compare.  Inside the NBA does everything right and satisfies my NBA cravings with their seamless blend of humor, looseness, and legit basketball insight.  They all rag on each other, argue, tell stories, laugh a lot, and break down the game of basketball.  The segments like Kenny’s Pictures, random contests/bets, and Gone Fishin’ are always a good time.
For years, the core of the show has been Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley.  I want to break down each of them briefly with what they bring to the table.  But first, if someone asked me to describe the show in one sentence, what I would offer is “I wouldn't be surprised if they are all best friends outside of work.”  What more do you need to know?

Ernie Johnson TNTErnie Johnson NBA on TNTElevator Ernie TNT

Ernie Johnson is the man.  Plain and simple.  He is the anchor (pardon the pun); the rock; the glue that holds everything together.  He knows his stuff, is completely likable  sarcastic, and is able to mesh the personalities together while providing the proper leash length so the show doesn't stray too far from whatever the topic is.  Oh yeah, and he beat cancer as well.  There is a reason I own the Elevator Ernie Johnson shirt and so should you.  Most of the time I have to explain to the average person what the shirt means.  However, there is a basketball brotherhood out there, and I know the members who are hardcore fans when they comment on my shirt when I am out in public.  We know what’s up.  Respect.

Kenny Smith TNT analyst

Kenny Smith is an affable, cool guy.  He played in the league for many seasons and was a dynamic player.  He won two Championships in the mid 90’s on those famed Houston Rockets teams.  Let’s get this out of the way though:  He loves New York and his brother Vince.  A lot.  If you can get past that, it’s all good.  Anyway, Kenny knows his stuff and presents it in a manner that comes off friendly and informed with a tinge or arrogance, but that isn't a bad thing at all.  He’ll argue with Chuck when they disagree, but you can tell they genuinely enjoy the back and forth banter.

Then there is Sir Charles.  The Chuckster.  The Round Mound of Rebound and/or Sound depending on your preference.  He is the best all-around Analyst on TV today.  Everyone loves Chuck and it’s just hard not to.  For being one of the best NBA players ever as well as a pretty unique guy, he somehow comes off like an average Joe that you’d love to have a beer with.  Charles is hilarious, well-respected, self-deprecating, charming, silly, thoughtful and honest.  People like to knock him because of the way he talks or about his southern drawl, but the man knows his basketball.  He has a way of phrasing things in such a simple way that you almost take it for granted, but make no mistake about it:  The guy knows his basketball.  The show really goes as Chuck goes.  TNT would be wise to lock him up forever because he is the heart and soul of the show.  The man is beloved, and it is also a treat when he does color commentary during a game here and there.

I feel like everything you just read is nothing new to you if you regularly watch the show.  Glad we are on the same page.  Now, if you reference back to the title of the article, it mentions “One MASSIVE problem” and I think it is pretty clear where I am going with this…

Shaqtin a foolShaqtin a fool TNT

Shaq. Has. To. Go.
When I first heard last year that Shaq would be joining the guys, it sounded like a great idea and I was looking forward to it in a big way.  After having followed Shaq’s career since he joined the league in 1992 everyone knew he would end up in the Analyst chair.  It seemed as if he was destined to do it.  In all of his interviews he was charismatic, goofy, charming, funny, and ridiculous.  The fact that he has four rings also lends to his credibility just a bit.
And so it began.  Shaq’s initial appearances were underwhelming.  He didn't say much or offer anything of substance aside from cliches and he constantly looked at himself in the monitor.  All of this was to be expected though because like anything, there is an adjustment period to a new job.  It did nothing to discourage anything about his presence – although I won’t lie:  The whole looking at himself in the monitor thing totally distracted me and I began to actively watch for it.  In fact, he still does it, so take a gander…

Eventually, he got more comfortable with the job, settled in, began to contribute more and things seemed to be looking up.  Then, something happened.  The real Shaq, whom we the audience don’t really know, started to come out and there were problems and turn-offs:
Turn-off #1:  The real Shaq apparently has an ego that is in contention for World’s Largest.  He is one of the best players ever – there is no question about that.  Everyone is aware of that, but he felt the need to constantly remind us how dominant he was.  28 and 15!  28 and 15!
Turn-off # 2:  He is never wrong, and cannot be argued with.  If one of the other panelists disagrees or has a different opinion, he immediately tunes them out, interrupts them over and over saying “No. Stop it.  Stop it.” until that person relents out of frustration.
Turn-off #3:  Shaq is a funny guy.  He has an outgoing, goofy personality and likes to laugh.  The problem is he is trying wayyy too hard to be funny.  He wants to be Charles, but Charles is already Charles, so it just isn't going to work.  He just needs to be himself, but for all we know, maybe that IS himself.  Maybe small doses of him through random interviews here and there might be better.
Turn-off #4:  He has perhaps the thinnest skin of any person in the media spotlight.  In such a high profile position people (like myself) are going to critique you.  It’s part of the job.  More importantly though as it was stated earlier, one of the great things about the show is how the guys all rag and tease one another.  It became clear very earlier on that Shaq does not like to be teased about anything as he redefines the word defensive.  It can turn vicious, cruel, and uncomfortable – which leads me to….
Turn-off #5:  The tension between Shaq and Charles is palpable.  I noticed it right away and it is the classic Alpha Dog Syndrome.  Simpletons might like to think that since they had a fight one time during a game years back, that the issues are rooted from that.  I say nay because these are grown men and not immature rivals in the 9th grade.   Two Alpha Dogs are butting heads.  Charles is already “The Guy” and Shaq thinks he is and should be “The Guy”.  As such, Shaq’s method of dealing with this situation is to attack Charles full-on.  He attempts to belittle him, embarrass him, brag about his accomplishments, and generally just try to be a bully.  Boy oh boy does it come off reeeally bad.  The body language of everyone on the panel screams “I am uncomfortable during this moment!”  Their faces can’t hide it either.  Charles just looks stunned most of the time when Shaq does this – not because he doesn’t have a comeback (because he does) – he looks stunned because he can’t believe his eyes what is happening.  That being said, it all makes for magnificent television. 
To Shaq’s credit, at the time of this writing he’s now in his second year and has gotten better.  As previously stated, Shaq is a funny guy.  He has some hilarious moments on the acclaimed “Open Court” episodes, and  “Shaqtin’ a Fool” is a fun segment I look forward to that always draws laughs even though the clips are what is ultimately where the humor comes from.  I also want to thank the Producers for coaching him because it has helped but it is not a substantial improvement.  The bottom line is he is bringing the show down and he has to go.
Now look - I get it.  It’s Shaq, and he has some clout and power in the basketball universe.  At the same time, TNT is a major cable television company running the show.  Losing Shaq wouldn't be a PR or ratings disaster.  Let him bolt to ESPN and join that improving, but ultimately JV squad.  Possessing major NBA clout from your playing days and related achievements doesn't necessarily translate to another job in the industry.  Magic Johnson was one of the best ever, eternally adored, and amazingly accomplished as a player.  Read that last sentence again and pay close attention to the words “as a player” because to be perfectly honest, he is a fairly underwhelming Analyst.  He’s average at best, and their show wouldn't suffer tremendously if he were to leave or be let go - but understand that he is much better than Shaq.
TNT does have an ace in the hole to counter what little damage (if any) would be done by Shaq leaving…

Chris Webber KingsChris Webber NBA TV

C-Webb.  He is the darling of all the up-and-coming Analysts looking for a shot at the big time with a full-time gig.  Anyone who knows of his glory days on NBATV when he shared the spotlight with GP knows how great he is, as well as the times he fills in on the show.  C-Webb is well-spoken, crazy funny, relate-able  he clearly knows his stuff, and is PASSIONATE.  When he gets into a topic, you can tell he really feels and means what he is saying which is uber-appealing.  One other unique quality that he has (unlike most Analysts not named Chuck) is he speaks his mind and the truth.  He doesn’t sugarcoat things and tells it like he was just hanging out with his friends talking shop.  It is beyond refreshing and brings a different element to the show.  The guy is a stud and is ready to be unleashed as a permanent member of the panel.

Chris Webber analyst

What it all comes down to is I love this show.  The year before Shaq started, I clearly remember watching it regularly and loving it.  It actually made me feel good to watch it, I looked forward to it, and fully appreciated it.  Inside the NBA was honestly perfect in its format, makeup, and execution.  A glaring flaw exists now, but a solution also lies in wait.  Come on TNT.  Let’s take this show to new heights because otherwise, you’re just…..

Shaqtin a fool TNT

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