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For Charles Barkley, save this prediction: He loves this too much to retire

One of my favorite assignments as a sports media writer came in 2013 when I rode the C train in New York City with Charles Barkley. The TNT NBA analyst had never ridden on the New York subway before, and some smart Turner Sports PR person came up with the idea to have Barkley take the train from Manhattan to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. “Barkley to Barclays!”

Both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets were struggling at the time, and as we were on a crowded subway car with New Yorkers excited about seeing the NBA Hall of Famer, Barkley heard a baby crying.

“I’m going to see the Knicks and Nets, so I know exactly how that baby feels,” Barkley joked. The car erupted in laughter. You can watch my very amateur footage of some of the ride here:

Someone who knows him well once told me that Barkley hated to be alone. That line always stayed with me, and I’ve always taken note of the energy he drew from being around people, including in that subway car 10-plus years ago.

I have interviewed Barkley many times, but I don’t want to overstate my insight about him. I don’t know much about his life away from his job. But in all of my interactions with him over more than a dozen years, including once interviewing him in front of nearly 1,000 people at the South By Southwest festival, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him alone. He’s always with someone. If you have never read this story about Barkley and a gentleman named Lin Wang, I think you’ll find it illuminating because it offers insight into Barkley’s desire to be around people.

This is why I don’t think he will leave sports broadcasting.

So, about that. With the conclusion of the NBA Finals on Monday night — a dud of a competitive series and a viewership bust  — the focus for the NBA turns to an official completion of its future media rights deal, along with the NBA Draft. But a significant shock tangentially related to the media rights deals came last week following Game 4 of the NBA Finals when Barkley said he would retire from TV after the 2024-25 season regardless of what happens with Warner Bros. Discovery’s NBA media rights negotiations.

“I ain’t going nowhere other than TNT,” Barkley said on NBA TV. “But I have made the decision myself that, no matter what happens, next year is going to be my last year on television.”

Hearing those words, I traveled back in time. The first time Barkley told me he was considering retiring from broadcasting was in 2012, when he said finishing his contract with Turner Sports would be a struggle. He was 49 years old.

“I love my job,” Barkley said then. “I love the people I work with. And I’m going to try to do things to keep me engaged. But I have four years left on my current deal, and to be honest with you, it’s going to be a struggle for me to make it for the whole four years. I really don’t know how much longer I’m going to do this. I need something more, or something else to do.

“I only thought I would do this for three or four years, but now I have been doing it for 13 years. When I got to my fifth year of broadcasting I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do this a couple of more years.’ But now I’m like, ‘Dude, you have been doing this for 13 years,’ and if I make it to the end of the contract, it will be 17 years. Seventeen years is a long time. It’s a lifetime in broadcasting. I personally have to figure out the next challenge for me.”

Fast forward to 2018. The second piece I wrote as a staffer at The Athletic was a long interview with Barkley where he once again placed an end date on his time as a broadcaster.

Deitsch: How many more years do you want to work as a broadcaster?

Barkley: I’m trying to make it to 60 because I still want to be young enough where I can enjoy my life and have fun. That is no disrespect to old people, but I don’t think you are going to be having a lot of fun at 70 or 75. From 60 to 70, I just want to enjoy life.

Deitsch: You have previously told me when we spoke that you were considering quitting broadcasting but you have stuck around. What changed?

Barkley: Well, No. 1, money (laughs). I have a great contract. But I am looking at 60 as the end.

The end did not come at 60. Barkley is now 61. No one I spoke to in sports broadcasting over the weekend, including people who are close to Barkley, believed he would actually retire. One cited his enjoying the spotlight too much. Another said they believed he’d change his mind when someone made it clear how much they wanted him. I spoke to one sports television executive who hires NBA talent who said people who have been in the public spotlight as long as Barkley do not easily give that up. The executive believed Barkley would change his mind. There are also people at WBD who believe something can be worked out with Barkley with or without NBA media rights. TNT put out a statement that kept things open-ended.

“We’re looking forward to another fantastic ‘NBA on TNT’ season and further discussion of our future plans with him,” the statement read.

The NBA season is long and exhausting. The rights deal has been a mess for TNT Sports employees, especially those behind the scenes. WBD CEO David Zaslav, as many have written, has conducted a clinic on how to alienate your potential sports media partner. Barkley sounded tired, to my ears, when he spoke on NBA TV, and he’s clearly been ticked off about the whole process in previous interviews. I don’t think this is a negotiating ploy because he’d have no problem getting paid $15 million to $20 million annually in a future deal. I also think he legitimately meant what he said last week.

But save this prediction: I don’t think it will stick. With rest and a recharge, Barkley will continue on television beyond 2025.


Marchand: Charles Barkley says he’s retiring, but this story doesn’t feel over

(Top photo of Charles Barkley in 2016: David Dow / NBAE via Getty Images)

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