The Barkley Sweepstakes

charles barkley
Barkley, who is widely viewed by executives as a singular talent in sports broadcasting, is highly coveted by ESPN, NBC, and Amazon. Photo: Megan Briggs/Getty Images
Dylan Byers
May 29, 2024

On Tuesday, shortly before Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference Finals between the Timberwolves and the Mavericks tipped off, a source who works closely with TNT’s Inside the NBA sought to convey a sense of the pall that had descended upon Studio J in Atlanta. “Everybody wants the Mavs to sweep,” the source told me. “Everybody wants this series to end.” 

In recent weeks, of course, TNT’s flagship NBA studio show has become ground zero for the anxieties coalescing around Turner and its parentco, Warner Bros. Discovery, which appears to be on the precipice of losing its NBA broadcast rights. The mere specter of this outcome has unleashed all manner of existential questions, real and exaggerated. Is TNT really about to endure the end of a partnership it has enjoyed for three and a half decades? Is Inside the NBA, a beloved show with all-too-rare chemistry and authenticity, really going to be sacrificed on David Zaslav’s altar of debt reduction? And would that be the death knell for Turner’s cable business more broadly? (My partners Julia Alexander and Bill Cohan have argued persuasively that it would not be, and perhaps might even be financially prudent, but the outcome would nevertheless be depressing as hell.)