As I've mentioned here before, I love Charles Barkley. That wasn't always the case. When he was a basketball player in the NBA, I thought he just liked to talk to hear the sound of his own voice. After his retirement, and when he's become a basketball commentator for both pro hoops and college, I've found that what he now likes to talk about is so open and insightful and so-often hilarious and even endearing, and even self-effacing. I'm sure that some of this change is my own, getting used to Sir Charles. But much, I'm sure, is a maturing on his part, or at least a change going from pro athlete to thoughtful analyst.
(I'm equally sure that he's not to everyone's taste. I'm fine with that. He doesn't try to be to everyone's taste. He wouldn't be half as interesting if he was otherwise.)
He's become a favorite, regular guest on a Chicago sportstalk show I listen to, and rather than visit on the phone for the normal 5-10 minutes like most guests, he'll generally agree to give up a half hour of his time. And that time flies by joyfully.
I like the NCAA basketball championships for many reasons, mainly of course because the competition is so high level and intense, with games regularly going town to literally the last second. But another reason is because Barkley does pregame and halftime analysis on the in-studio four-man panel, and he's as good, wildly entertaining, candid, and free-spirited there as on the NBA panels.
Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. Guess which is which.
A couple of days ago, during the halftime break on TNT's coverage for the NCAA championships, he went on a rant that was pure Charles. In a media world where you don't dare tread on the "customers," not wanting to risk offending a single viewer, not doing a single thing that might even conceivably driving one person off, he shredded a segment of viewers that had his fellow-analysts on the panel in hysterics.
A slight background is needed.
During most-any national sports telecasts, fans will often be divided on how supposedly "biased" the announcers are. If you like Team A, you're sure that the announcers are biased for Team B -- and vice-versa. What TNT did, with this in mind, was something extremely clever.
There were four channels who covered the NCAA "March Madness" playoff this year, forming a network of sorts. For the semi-finals, three of those channels were used to broadcast the two games on Saturday night. To be clear, all three stations broadcast each individual game simultaneously. TNT had the main coverage. They used their top "A" announcing team and did their normal, objective coverage there. But for those fans who wanted coverage slanted to their favorite team, perhaps to give more insight, or simply just more emotional support, that's where the other two stations came in: TBS handled the coverage for one of the teams, and TruTV did the play-play for the other. (For instance, when Wisconsin played Kentucky, the analyst on TBS was a former Kentucky coach, and the analyst on TruTV had been a coach at Wisconsin.) They'd tailor the replays for each audience, as well. It was a fascinating and very smart use of the media. And it was announced and promoted that way.
Okay, heading back now to Saturday night and halftime on TNT -- the mothership station. (Mind you, this TNT halftime coverage was aired on all three channels at the same time.)
The panel of moderator Ernie Johnson, and analysts Clark Kellogg, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley were all doing their traditional solid commentary. They cut away for a commercial, and when returning from the break, started up again. And that's when Barkley interrupted. He pointed out that during the break he'd been reading the Twitter feeds from fans which had been set up specifically for people watching either TBS or TruTV. Paraphrasing him, though getting pretty close, he continued --
"I've been reading all those Twitters, or whatever you call them -- "
"Charles doesn't Tweet, do you Charles?" Ernie Johnson interrupted and clarified.
"No, I don't. But I was reading what those people were saying, complaining about the announcers on TBS and TruTV being biased and...and -- you people are idiots! You are just total idiots. These people, they're complaining about the announcers being biased, and -- and That's The Whole Point, they're supposed to be biased. These people are just idiots. They're idiots"
By this point, the other announcers were almost falling off their chairs laughing. Even poor Ernie Johnson who's supposed to be the Voice of Reason, even he was having a hard time controlling himself. He eventually did his best to sort of explain that they all don't think all the viewers are idiots, and that they actually like their viewers, but it was clear that even he knew Barkley had a point -- just that most people don't express it so bluntly and outspokenly as Barkley did.
"They're idiots," Charles repeated. Just to make sure everyone got his point.
And that's yet one more reason I love Charles Barkley.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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