It would be satisfying to take TNT analyst Charles Barkley to the woodshed, but he's too big -- in more ways than one -- and any kind of ruckus would be construed as "any publicity is good publicity" by his network bosses. "Oh, it's just Charles being Charles" is the way TNT deals with the fallout of Barkley uttering torrents of insensitive comments.
Some examples from a conference call with reporters to promote this weekend's NBA All-Star coverage:
He won't watch NASCAR because he saw 10 Confederate flags while on the way to a race and turned around and went home.
TV ratings don't mean anything because he doesn't know any black people with ratings boxes on their televisions.
He was curious what "they'd" do if he used a derogatory term for gays on TV a couple of times as Detroit Lions president and CEO Matt Millen did.
"Danny Ainge called me today. I have to apologize to him. Even though he's doing a crappy job, he doesn't want me to say that on TV. Danny Ainge is a good friend of mine. He's made some terrible trades, but he doesn't want me to say that on TV, so I apologize."
"America is a funny place. Should she [Janet Jackson] have done it [bared a breast during the Super Bowl halftime show]? Probably not. But it's not like she started a war or something just to make money. I wish people were more irate with the Bush administration for starting a war for profit than they are with Janet Jackson for showing her breast. But that's America -- we don't know what's important and what's not important. It's much ado about nothing. It's not like she's going to traumatize anyone. Everyone is all offended now and bent out of shape. Give me a break. There are a lot of trashier things on television than what Janet Jackson did."
Barkley doesn't use diplomacy, but he does seem to have diplomatic immunity. Some of his comments, it should be noted, would have gotten Boston newspaper columnists or radio personalities placed on suspension.
When Barkley analyzes the league, however, he clearly knows the game and sees the big picture. Take this reaction to Toronto's Vince Carter saying he'd rather just fit in with the team instead of being The Man: "When you have that much talent, you don't get to say, `I just want to blend in.' That's not the way it works. It's up to the great players to make the other scrubs better. It's up to Vince to put his teammates on his back and carry them. That's the responsibility of being a great player. Kevin Garnett can't just say he wants to blend in. Shaquille O'Neal can't say that, Allen Iverson can't say that, and Tracy McGrady can't say that. Great players have to play great, and they have to lead. You're not one of the guys -- you're better than everyone else. That is why you're an All-Star and you get the highest salary."
A defining moment
TNT is broadcasting Sunday's NBA All-Star Game (8:30 p.m.) in high definition. It will be picked up locally on Comcast's HD tier on one of the iNHD channels (881 or 882), with Marv Albert, Doug Collins, and Mike Fratello on the call along with reporters Craig Sager and Cheryl Miller. TNT also is airing the Rookie Challenge game tonight at 9, with Dick Stockton, Steve Kerr, and John Thompson at courtside. Tomorrow's "All-Star Saturday" festivities run from 6-11 p.m., starting with a Magic Johnson party/show at 6, followed by a 20-year retrospective of TNT's All-Star coverage at 7, an introduction show at 8, and the shooting, dunking, skills, and 3-point competitions at 8:30. Kevin Harlan, Kerr, Barkley, Kenny Smith, Johnson, Sager, and Miller work the telecast. The skills competition will be available in HD . . . Nowhere is the melding of entertainment and sports more evident than at this NBA midseason party. ESPN airs tonight's Celebrity Game from 7-10 p.m., with Mike Tirico, Tom Tolbert, and Bill Walton calling the action and Stuart Scott, Michele Tafoya, Jim Gray, and Stephen A. Smith interviewing celebs. NBA players Mark Jackson (Houston) and Richard Jefferson (New Jersey) are playing, as are WNBA players Sue Bird (Seattle) and Nikki Teasley (Los Angeles). ESPN will take a different route for halftime entertainment, using X Games stunt bikers Jamie Bestwick, Kevin Robinson, and Dave Voelker, geared to appeal to the network's target young demographic . . . The influx of the sports and entertainment world in LA has given FSN's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" a smorgasbord. The Celtics' Paul Pierce, boxer Mike Tyson, and actor Mark Wahlberg are on today (8 p.m.).
On the air
Both the Big East and ESPN say no one has asked the network to refrain from telecasting next Saturday's St. John's-UConn basketball game in the wake of the sex scandal and suspensions involving St. John's players. Big East spokesman John Paquette said that game and the March 6 Notre Dame-St. John's game on CBS would air as scheduled . . . Channel 56 airs "Bill Cleary, A Kid from Cambridge" tonight at 10:30, profiling the Olympic hockey gold medalist (1960) who played and coached at Harvard, then became the school's athletic director. It's part of the station's "It's Great to Be Here" campaign, which celebrates local people and places . . . The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on USA outrated the Beanpot on NESN Monday night, 2.8-1.5. Tuesday's Best in Show telecast did a 4.0 rating . . . Former Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker, now a Chicago Cub: "I believe in the curse for the Red Sox. I don't believe in the curse for the Cubs." . . . The College Sports TV production of tomorrow's noon Rhode Island vs. St. Joseph's (21-0) game will be picked up by NESN . . . ABC has tomorrow afternoon's Bruins-Blackhawks game (Channel 5, 3 p.m.). That follows ABC's taped coverage of the European Figure Skating Championships, with Terry Gannon, Dick Button, Peggy Fleming, and Peter Carruthers manning the microphones from 1-3 p.m. . . . ESPN canceled "Playmakers," but the 11 episodes will be available on a three-DVD set to be released in April. ESPN.com is taking advance orders at $49.99.
Bill Griffith's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org