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When Charles Barkley, the quippy commentator on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” studio show, grew tired of Draymond Green’s aggressive on-court antics several years ago, he made it exceedingly clear that he wanted to punch Green in the face.

Green responded during a postgame news conference by calling Barkley’s bluff, telling the Hall of Fame player known for his rebounding prowess to “shut up.” “No one cares what you would have done,” Green said. “You old, and it is what it is.”

Verbal jousting in response to Barkley’s wisecracks has been commonplace during his two-decade tenure on “Inside the NBA,” which is in jeopardy of ending as soon as Thursday night because competing networks are negotiating for the N.B.A.’s media rights.

Green, a four-time N.B.A. champion, said in an interview that any wounded feelings spoke to the reverence players have for Barkley and his colleagues, the former players Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith, and the veteran host, Ernie Johnson.

“It’s almost like a rite of passage,” Green said of being criticized or praised by basketball heavyweights on national television. “I think N.B.A. players look to that show for validation, and that’s a reason so many guys could get upset when things don’t go their way.”

The future of “Inside the NBA” is uncertain because Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company of TNT Sports, failed to reach an agreement with the N.B.A. during an exclusive negotiation window to renew its media rights.

If the Dallas Mavericks clinch the Western Conference finals on Thursday night, it could be the final broadcast for the current TNT lineup. “Inside the NBA” will return next season, but Barkley has said his contract allows him to leave if TNT loses the media rights.

As the Emmy-winning show’s fate crystallizes, players said that Barkley’s chemistry with his fellow hosts and his unsparing criticism have been a model for athletes making the transition into television and podcasting.

“I think people say stuff for clicks and views, and it’s not very authentic, and this is something that is very authentic,” said Matt Barnes, a 16-season N.B.A. veteran and a host of the “All the Smoke” podcast. “I think they’re the blueprint of just having good conversation with your friends.”

For all of Barkley’s provocations, he can also be a good sport. After inaccurately predicting that Barnes’s team would lose in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, he wore a Golden State Warriors T-shirt on air as penance.

Barkley’s feud with Green lasted more than two years until Green made appearances as a commentator for TNT during the 2021 playoffs and other programming in the previous months. The following year, Green signed a multiyear contract with the network. He said that watching how Barkley interacted with the show’s support staff — “he knows everyone’s name” — and talking with him behind the scenes changed his perspective.

Of Barkley’s barbs, Green said, “As players, that can get frustrating at times, but on the same token, you have to respect it when it comes from a real place.” He added, “Charles is a jokester, so he’s going to add some color that you may not like.”

Others without that relationship disagree. After Barkley called Kevin Durant “sensitive” during a “60 Minutes” interview last year, saying “he’s part of that generation who think he can’t be criticized,” Durant jabbed back on social media: “This ain’t gettin tiring chuck? I’ll never respect the words that come out ya mouth fam just deal with it.”

Barkley, Smith and O’Neal have also repeatedly denounced the fitness level and weight of Zion Williamson. “It looks like me and Shaq had a baby,” Barkley said in 2021, causing O’Neal to erupt in laughter.

Criticism from O’Neal and Barkley can particularly sting because of their on-court legacies, said Barnes, who called them two of the best players in history. O’Neal won four N.B.A. titles, and though Barkley never won a championship — a common rebuttal from his targets — he was the league’s most valuable player in 1993 and an 11-time All-Star.

“You don’t always have to agree, but you have to, in a sense, respect it because of the work that they put in,” Jayson Tatum told “CBS Mornings” in February after Barkley questioned the Boston Celtics’ mental toughness. (The Celtics have gone 12-2 in the playoffs while advancing to the N.B.A. finals.)

The success of “Inside the NBA” paved the way for other athletes to join the entertainment industry, Green said. Its freewheeling, conversational tone was in many ways a precursor to the thriving ecosystem of podcasts hosted by N.B.A. players. Barkley has been interviewed on both “All the Smoke” and Green’s podcast, “The Draymond Green Show.”

Green said that early in his moonlighting as a TNT broadcaster, he critiqued the defensive effort of Nikola Jokic, who later approached him to say he respected Green’s take.

The moment encouraged Green that he could be respectfully critical of his peers, a lesson he said that Barkley, O’Neal and Smith demonstrate. “The truth may sometimes piss people off, but that can’t stop you from doing the job,” Green said.



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