Dear TNT: Please Fire Shaq.
Before bashing him, let’s get the obvious compliments out of the way: Shaquille O’Neal is an NBA Legend. He’s a multiple-time world champion. He’s a future Hall of Famer. In his prime, he was the most physically dominant force we’ve ever seen.
I’ll tell you one thing he’s not good at, though: being a TV analyst.
After he retired, I wrote a piece celebrating all of his career achievements in a positive light. But in his retirement, he’s single handedly ruining the award-winning and highly entertaining TNT studio show by taking a job with them as an analyst. Last season in his first year of retirement, Shaq essentially replaced Chris Webber in the studio as a permanent fixture to team up with Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and the oh-so-lovable Charles Barkley. Given Shaq’s publicized antics over the years, it seemed like a great idea. But it wasn’t.
I cannot say enough great things about the rest of the TNT team – the pieces fit so well together and are leaps and is bounds above any other sports studio show. If you’re an NBA fan that enjoys top-notch comedic banter, look no further than TNT’s halftime segments and post-game “Inside the NBA” shows. The plethora of great moments resulting from the original trio of EJ, Kenny, and Charles have captivated NBA fans (and heck, even non-basketball fans) everywhere. Unlike Shaq, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller have been terrific additions to the team in recent years, as they have provided some great insight and entertaining moments (I particularly get a kick out of C-Webb’s French rendition of saying “Tony Parker” and screaming “Rondoooooooo”). The in-game commentary from play-by-play commentators Marv Albert and Kevin Harlan, as well as their mix of color commentators (usually a combination of Miller, Webber, Steve Kerr, and Mike Fratello) is top-notch. Barkley is the most well known and popular name in the TNT family, as he is usually the victim of hilarious pranks (LOVED the Ron Burgundy prank) and classic sound bits of him slurring his words (what’s a Barn Barner?).
But it’s really the whole team that makes the show work. Kenny and C-Webb are masterful at pointing out Charles’ fumbling over his words, and they never hesitate to call him out on any of his blunders. As the anchor of the show, Ernie Johnson is absolutely phenomenal at spearheading the crew. The quips and banter often get out of hand, and he knows exactly when to rope the guys in when they get out of control. But at the same time, he knows when to let the banter fester when appropriate. Most importantly, they all seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and none of them seem to feel that working in the studio is a chore.
It’s not just the non-basketball related pranks and gibberish that make these guys fun to watch. When these guys get serious and do talk basketball, the analysts’ perspectives are extremely informative and enlightening. I find that I learn something new about the nuances of basketball every time I listen in. In terms of both personality types and playing experience, Kenny, Charles, and C-Webb complement each other extremely well. Kenny was an average NBA player, but as the lone champion of the three, gives a lot of valuable perspective on culture of championship-caliber teams. He sheds light on a lot on the dynamic of his championship teams and interactions with the great then-teammate Hakeem Olajuwon, and compares that dynamic to that of modern day basketball superstars. Barkley and C-Webb, while never having won a title, still carry a lot of credibility as former superstars themselves. As they know first-hand what it’s like to fall just short of a title, they readily recognize what current NBA stars must do in order to get over the barriers that they themselves failed to conquer. Because of the instant credibility that the three of these analysts bring to the table, even current players are curious about their opinions and watch the TNT segments to listen to their evaluations on various teams and players.
While the dynamic is still overall solid despite Shaq’s presence, the Diesel has clearly hampered the show’s innate quality. I know he’s still new to this TV gig and there are some things he will get better at, such as not cursing while on live TV. But overall, he adds neither humor nor valuable perspective to the show. Shaq has been known to be a clown and has given us some laughs over the years, but his humor does not translate to the studio as well as it did in his past antics. The low pitched, monotone voice puts viewers of “Inside the NBA” to sleep after TNT doubleheaders instead of waiting around to see what Chuck and Kenny have in store. His once-funny one-line quips don’t work as well today in discussion forums as they used to in quick postgame interviews.
As for the basketball side of things, Shaq constantly fails to provide an objective opinion on the NBA’s hot topics. It’s very difficult for him to separate his personal feelings and beef with current players (most conspicuously Dwight Howard) in his assessments as an analyst. I’m sorry – I despised Dwight Howard’s handling of his situation in Orlando as much as anyone, but unlike Shaq I know he’s a better center than Robin Lopez and Andrew Bynum. Okay, I know he meant Brook Lopez, but even that mix-up goes to show he’s not very crisp on his NBA knowledge nevertheless. His beef with Pat Riley has also made him refuse to acknowledge Riley whenever the subject of great NBA coaches comes up. His rifts with players and coaches were entertaining when he was on the court, but he needs to learn to let those slide when he’s in the studio as an objective analyst. This inability to be unbiased shreds his credibility compared to that of Kenny and Charles; it’s evident that the opinions of the latter two analysts are really taken to heart by viewers everywhere. On the contrary with Shaq, everybody knows he’s just talking out of his behind.
TNT’s NBA segments would not miss a beat without Shaq. In fact, it was already a whole lot better without him. Last season (his first with TNT), he got the nod as the 3rd analyst behind Kenny and Charles, relegating C-Webb to strictly either calling games, or sticking to the NBA TV studio. But from Day One, it was clear that C-Webb blends with Kenny and Charles a whole lot better. If Shaq left, we would get more of both C-Webb and Reggie Miller in the studio (although Reggie might be best suited as a color commentator). Even though Shaq didn’t get fired after last year’s dreadful performance, at least TNT wised up and put C-Webb in the studio along with Shaq, Kenny, and Charles in last week’s TNT segments. But that studio looks a little crowded with all four (including EJ), and I say the behemoth’s gotta go.
My message to TNT: PLEASE give Shaq the pink slip. Don’t keep letting him continue to harm the perfect chemistry among everybody else. Let’s get back to the classic banter and eye-opening thoughts of the rest of the guys that make this show great before Shaq compromises the quality of this fantastic show any further.