The Los Angeles Lakers are the premier brand in the NBA, even when they’re not a playoff contender. They’re barely a playoff contender this year, but that’s a far cry from the championship expectations they entered the season with. The 2021-22 Lakers have fluctuated between mediocre and (especially lately) downright unwatchable, which is especially disastrous when a team literally has the most nationally televised games of any organization in the league.
For the most popular television analyst in the NBA, Thursday night’s drubbing at the hands of the Clippers on TNT was the last straw. Charles Barkley led off the Inside The NBA halftime show with a declaration of independence from Lakers coverage — which included some shots at the NBA’s main media partners including, yes, Barkley’s own employer.
“I’m not talking about these damn losers,” Barkley said. “Between the nitwits at TNT and the nitwits at ESPN, we talk about these losers more than any people in the world.”
Barkley initially referred to the Lakers as “that team from Southern California” and, when pressed by Ernie Johnson, said he would not refer to the Lakers by their actual name until they win a playoff game.
"The team from Southern California"— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 4, 2022
Chuck is refusing to say the word "Lakers" pic.twitter.com/KN1IfKD5p5
Barkley got even more animated after the game, which the Lakers ended up losing 132-111, deciding to just take TNT’s programming priorities into his own hands apparently.
“Man, we’re not showing these guys anymore,” he bellowed. “I’m making an executive decision around here. We’re not showing them bums from Southern California anymore.”
Chuck's had it with "the team from Southern California" pic.twitter.com/hy9yvIFjNw— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 4, 2022
Barkley’s frustration is understandable. After all, I wrote after that Thursday disaster that there is little reason to care about these Lakers right now if they don’t seem to care themselves. There’s a reason I used the word “unwatchable” to describe them above. This team has not played good basketball all year long aside from LeBron James continuing to impose his ageless will whenever he decides to do so.
Barkley’s a smart guy. He knows that the Lakers will always get special treatment among NBA coverage because there is no other brand like it in the league that will draw as many eyeballs, especially when the off-court drama turns into a full-blown soap opera — like it has this year, and way too many other years in the recent past. The Lakers have either the biggest or second-biggest fanbase in the NBA by pretty much every metric that can track such things, from merchandise sales, to TV ratings, to social media engagement.
The NBA and its media partners would be foolish not to capitalize on that brand to drive up overall viewership. It’s the same logic behind the Dallas Cowboys getting constant primetime coverage on NFL Sundays despite winning two playoff games in the past quarter-century, and why the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox almost always get the Fox Sports and ESPN Saturday and Sunday national TV slots when they play each other, no matter how good each team is during that season.
My guess is that Barkley knows this, but is fed up with having to cover such a dismal team so constantly.
Believe me, I get it.
That said, Barkley didn’t exactly live up to his own demands on Thursday night. At different points during Inside The NBA, he called the Lakers’ veterans “cooked”, singling out Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony and the recently departed DeAndre Jordan by name (again, he’s not wrong!), and jokingly asked his co-hosts whether the 17-year-old Bronny James would start or come off the bench if he joined this Lakers roster right now.
"All those old guys, they’re cooked. Well done. It’s over."— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 4, 2022
Chuck sounds off on the Lakers pic.twitter.com/KhfxHUO90v
"Does Bronny start or come off the bench if he gets on this team this year?"— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) March 4, 2022
This isn’t the first time in recent weeks that Barkley has gone after the Lakers. He recently expressed fury about how unnamed members of the organization had seemingly pushed for Frank Vogel’s ouster and a Russell Westbrook trade, and was ready for a larger rant before Johnson cut him off by saying they had a guest standing by.
“Well, the Lakers still suck when we get back from this interview,” Barkley retorted.
It was hard to argue with that statement then, and even harder to argue with it now.
Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, the Lakers tip off against the Warriors on ABC tonight at 5:30 p.m. PT.