Monday, October 30th, 2006 at 8:09 pm  |  21 responses

Lunch with Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson

Are you ready to go Inside the NBA? We catch up with EJ, The Jet and The Chuckster…

by Lang Whitaker

A few hours ago, I walked into Bar Americain in midtown Manhattan and was escorted to an upstairs dining room. Sitting outside the room was Charles Barkley, chatting with a reporter. (The Chuckster gave me a head nod.) Inside the room, Kenny Smith sat at a table, punching away at his BlackBerry. It was media day for the TNT crew, at least their version of media day — they invited about ten media writers (and me) to lunch, and we had an on-the-record conversation about pretty much everything NBA-related.

For most of the writers, it was probably a big deal to see Chuck and Kenny, because they’re the stars of the TNT show. And then I noticed Ernie Johnson.

Less than a year ago, EJ announced that he’d ben diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and would be undergoing treatment all summer. A lot of you know that EJ’s a long-time Linkstigator, and I’ve received a ton of mail from you guys asking for Ernie updates this summer. But the truth is, I didn’t want to ask him, because I figured he probably wanted/needed to focus on getting his health back.

The first time Ernie’s spoken about his treatment was this afternoon, and to be honest, the first words he spoke weren’t with his mouth: He had a shaved head, a clean-shaven face, his eyebrows were just suggestions. He looked different, obviously, at least on the surface.

Ernie came over and gave me a hug and a smile, and we caught up on his health (doing much better, and he’s hopefully done with his treatments), UGA football and the Falcons. He may look different, as you’ll see tomorrow night when TNT starts their NBA coverage, but he’s still the same cool guy. And the fact that he appears to be improving by the day is such great news.

We all sat down to lunch, which is when the Chuckster took over, as he’s used to doing. Here are my notes on some quotes from Kenny and Charles…

On the new game balls…
CB: “Half the guys say it’s too sticky, half the guys say it’s too slippery. Those are really wide variations. The one thing I hate about the ball, it always feels new. If you ask Kenny, when we played we always wanted an old used ball.”

After being asked if when he played, he was the guy that went through and chose the game balls…
KENNY: “Make sure you write this correctly, but yes, I was the ball tester.”

CB: “I knew it! You coming out tonight? This is the perfect place, because it’ll be in every newspaper tomorrow. We’re still gonna love you.”

On injuries…
CB: “Kwame Brown hurt his rotator? What is he, a pitcher? Give me a break. Every basketball player has a bad rotator. You can’t miss a game with a bad rotator. Unless you’re a pitcher, then you can.”

On the new rule stopping players from complaining so much…
CB: The refs have got to make an adjustment. Things had gotten out of hand, man. Guys were complaining about every single call. They can’t have guys complaining after every single call, but the refs have to be really careful. They can’t be giving out T’s like candy. Players have the right to complain, but not after every call. The refs don’t miss every call.”

On NBA refs…
KS: “The one thing you don’t call an NBA referee is, Hey Ref. If you don’t know their name, they don’t know you.”

On NBA image…
KS: “I think the image of NBA players, overseas and here, is that they make too much money, they’re arrogant, they have a posse…”
CB: “And they’re black.”
KS: “No question. And then a European player comes over, and they work hard, they don’t have posses, they’re fundamentally sound. They’re a lot of guys who hard, but that image has to change.”

On Charles talking trash when he played…
EJ: “What did you tell Chris Carr that time when you played?”
CB: “I said, They can’t get a pin up your ass with a jackhammer right now. [Next two shots went] clang, clang. He had no chance of making them free throws.”

On the new defense rules…
CB: “If you’re a guard now and you just go toward the basket, you’re going to get a foul call and go to the free throw line. Free throws are going through the roof for guards right now. You can’t guard any guard in this league now who’s quick. There used to be maybe one guy who averaged like 30 points a game. Now you look and there’s four or five guys up around 28 or 29, and they’re all guards.”

Kenny on announcing occasional Knicks games on MSG…
KS: “I enjoyed it last season. I did enjoy it. Misery, I like misery. I like going to see horror movies, I guess. It was interesting, because I knew Larry Brown, I knew Isiah, and I knew the players. I don’t know what they have this year, and I told Isiah, I don’t think you know what you have this year.”

Ernie on his new bald look…
EJ: “My wife actually shaved it when I started losing it (from his lymphoma treatments). It was looking spotty and kind of mangy, and she came home from work one night and said, It’s gotta go. We were very pleased that I didn’t have a…disfigured head, once you could see it and it was bald.”
CB: “I will say this, and not to sound racist, but one of the great travesties of American history is white men who are afraid to shave their heads, thinking they’re going to have an ugly head. There’s nothing wrong with their heads. But some of these hairdos, they’ve got to go, they’ve got to come on home. Shave their damn heads. There’s nothing wrong with your head. Sometimes I see some of these guys with the comb-overs or the bad toupees, and I’m like, Hey man, do you think you should shave that shit? Ain’t nothing going to be wrong with your head. The myth that white men can’t shave their head is just that, it’s a myth.”

Kenny gets an email that Jalen Rose got bought out by the Knicks…
CB: They bought him out? What was that, $13 million? [Someone notes that it was a $16 contract.] Damn.
I ask if either Charles or Kenny would ever have taken a buyout when they played.
BOTH: “No!”
CB: “First of all, I don’t think he took a buyout, unless it was maybe a million less to go home. He didn’t give up 3 or 4 million. He ain’t that stupid.”

On ESPN’s NBA coverage…
CB: “We just worry about Ernie, Kenny and Charles and the guys in the studio. I mean, we wisht the best to our friends at ESPN/ABC, but ESPN, I’m not sure what they’re doing. It just can’t be good to have different people all the time. That’s not a reflection of me commenting on them, but it’s gotta be hard to have stability when you’re changing all the time. I mean, me and Ernie are always trying to get Kenny fired, but they just won’t do it.”

On having bad games scheduled on TNT…
CB: “My personality is dictated by the game. If we’ve got a shit game, I’m like, We’ve got to find a way to make the fans enjoy the game tonight. The people aren’t stupid. I want the fans to watch good basketball, that’s first and foremost. I get pissed when we have a bad game. They’re not watching for us, they’re watching to watch the game.”

On being on TNT…
KS: “Charles can’t tell you about this because he never won a title, but…(everyone laughs)…but I get stopped now from being on TNT than I ever did after we won the Championship.
CB: “That’s because they didn’t know you were on the team.”

On Reggie Miller’s comments about Stephen Jackson and the Pacers…
CB: “You can’t be going around shooting at people? What the hell are you supposed to say? Reggie was 100-percent correct. You have to criticize a guy who was out shooting at people. If the Pacers got mad or Stephen Jackson got mad, too bad. What was Reggie supposed to say?”
KS: “You can’t question a player’s heart. For instance, I can’t say Kobe Bryant has no heart. To me, that’s an asinine statement, because heart is something you can’t measure. I could say Kobe’s not getting back on defense, and then pull out the tape and show you that you’re not getting back on defense.”

On watching League Pass…
CB: “I hate watching the home telecasts, because all those announcers are homers. They just talk about how the other team’s players don’t work hard and screw up. I’m like, No! Both teams are screwing up!”

ON TNT using Jay-Z, who according to the NY Times reporter asking the question has done songs that “could be perceived” as having racist and mysoginistic lyrics, in their new ad campaign…
CB: “I’ll handle this. It’s a slippery slope, it’s a very slippery slope. These young guys are the hip-hop generation. They want their players to walk a certain way and be a certain way, and they want to show that part of the game. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just a very slippery slope. Rap is obviously having a negative effect on our culture, and we’re really going to have to address that.”
KS: “I disagree.”
CB: “We can disagree. But young black kids are killing each other at an ungodly rate, young black girls are getting pregnant at an ungodly rate. But it’s not up to the NBA or Turner to solve all our ills.”

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  • Waxtron

    I’m EJ is doing well.

  • Waxtron

    Yeah, I love missing words.

    I’m glad EJ is doing well.

  • Tim Dogg

    I don’t know if the Round Mound will ever read this, but I just wanted to say thanks for sticking up for us bald white men.

  • http://idunkonthem.blogspot.com/ albie1kenobi

    well, i guess those TNT bobbleheads are outdated now.
    definitely happy to hear that EJ’s doing well. NBA is a better place with him around.

  • Mike

    To be completely honest, I went into broadcast journalism cause I wanted to be like Ernie. The man has the sweetest job, I mean who wouldnt want to sit around and talk ball all day with Chuck and Kenny. Good to see he’s doing well.

  • SteveSmith8fan

    Thank God for the TNT crew. EJ, Kenny, and Charles really make the Inside the NBA even more enjoyable than the games at times.

    The crew at ESPN is a joke. The show is not funny and everybody comes across as trying to hard to be funny.

  • http://www.myspace.com/linkstigatorkevin Kevin Wilson

    Ernie’s job may be sweet, but it’s gotta be hard as hell to keep Charles and Kenny in line.

    That “they didn’t know you were on the team” line made me spit out my Coke, for real.

  • Thomas

    Thanks for the report Lang, I don’t live in North America anymore and I missed the TNT crew. They are the best and I am really glad the Links can provide some glimpse of what’s going on with them. I hope EJ will continue to get better and be totally healthy in the near future. It’s awesome to see Kenny and Charles still arguing back and forth and cracking jokes on each other. Thanks!

  • Gilbert0

    one of the great travesties of american history?

    you have to love barkley

  • Matthew

    Great piece Lang. Glad to hear about EJ and when it comes to pre/post game coverage, TNT has it locked down. Now if they could just find a way to steal the music from NBA on NBC….. And by the way, Charles and Kenny are funny as hell and you know they are when they make you laugh out loud reading a conversation, let alone hearing one.

  • Ryan W.

    Best studio sports show ever, and I hate hyperbole.

  • Cheryl

    I’m so glad to hear Ernie’s prognosis is excellent. It’ll be great to see those guys get back at it. I wish they would go back to the Tues/Thurs. line up, but I guess Law and Order makes way too much money for the network. Nice piece, Lang.

  • kdubb

    with the risk of sounding corny, Sir Charles is irreplaceable. He’s so real and speaks his mind. I like how Kenny doesn’t take any b.s. from him either. And Ernie is a class act. These guys are right up there with Howard Cosell and the MNF crew back in the day.

  • Shiz

    Charles Barkley for President yall…wit Kenny as his running mate…

  • Steve

    We have to thank Charles for so much, and blame him for so much. He is a hilarious character, and he has made watching basketball much more fun. But because of his success, every other network tries to duplicate the chemistry and antics of the TNT group with their halftime crews, and it is just unwatchable. It’s too bad that there are so many egos involved in sports broadcasting, because in a perfect world, Ernie, Kenny and Charles would be doing other sporting events — the NCAA tournament, PGA golf tournaments, an occasional Monday Night Football, etc. Wouldn’t our lives be so much better if they did?

  • Ryan W.

    Steve, I agree with the sentiment, although I think Sir Charles commentating on a NASCAR race broadcast would be enormous.

  • http://slamonline.com Lang Whitaker

    I was going to ask Chuck about running for governor of Alabama, but he left a little early to go be on CNN. As he got up from the table, he said, “Am I going to be on with my boy, Lou Dobbs?”

    Chuck is really just a force of nature. He doesn’t make sense sometimes, but he talks so passionately that it comes across like he really cares about a topic and nobody cares that he avoided the question.

    A lot like a politician, come to think of it.

  • dpak

    The TNT crew is why I stay up ’til 130AM on worknights!

  • illydiva

    So glad to hear Ernie is doing better. These guys are perfect together, and it wouldn’t be the same without Ernie. This is why we love Charles: CB: “Kwame Brown hurt his rotator? What is he, a pitcher? Give me a break. Every basketball player has a bad rotator. You can’t miss a game with a bad rotator. Unless you’re a pitcher, then you can.”

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  • GMATCallahan

    Barkley’s comments about the quick guards being able to score so much more and shoot so many more free throws due to the rule changes are noteworthy. One wonders how many points Isiah Thomas and Kevin Johnson would have averaged in today’s game, plus all the assists.