Turner Sports basketball analyst Charles Barkley is ready to put his money where his mouth is—and become the equivalent of a CEO for an NBA team.
Barkley surprised everyone (including his bosses) by revealing this week that he might leave TV when his contract expires in two years. When CNBC asked the Emmy winner if he'd like to run an NBA club like Michael Jordan does, Barkley sounded off.
"I would love to run a team. I would love to be a general manager. Just for the challenge," the 51-year-old Barkley said as he discussed TNT's NBA coverage, which tipped off Tuesday night. "But if that opportunity doesn't come, I'm content with where I am at right now."
In a wide-ranging interview, the member of basketball's Hall of Fame also doubled down on his recent, controversial comments ripping anonymous African-American Seattle Seahawks players who allegedly resent quarterback Russell Wilson for not being "black enough."
Said Barkley: "He was black enough last year when they were winning. Now they're losing, he's not black enough? I don't think he changed in the last six months."
Now in his 15th season on TNT, the outspoken Barkley is one of the most prominent sports analysts on TV. But his honesty has also put a "strain," he said, on his decades-long friendship with Jordan, who bought the Charlotte Hornets for $275 million in 2010 and now serves as majority owner/chairman.
Barkley has criticized Jordan's questionable drafting and personnel decisions. His analysis of their now-icy relationship provides insight on how he'd manage an NBA club.
"I said, 'Michael just needs to do a better job. He's got to get rid of the flunkies around him and hire real basketball people.' He does that now. They've been doing a great job since he got rid of his flunkies—and hired basketball people."
When Barkley was asked if Jordan's competitive nature would allow him to reach out to him, he laughed. "No. And it's not in my personality either. I'm not going to go apologizing for what I said."
Jordan won't comment on Barkley's remarks, Hornets spokesman Mike Cristaldi told CNBC.
Outside of a possible GM job, Barkley has no game plan if he leaves TNT. He's not interested in running for political office (although the Arizona resident took a whack at Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio). He'd "never" join rival network ESPN, a joint venture of Walt Disney and privately held Hearst. It's "Turner or nothing," said the former Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns star.
Barkley's "Inside the NBA" pre/postgame show with Shaquille O'Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson has long given ESPN fits. The network has employed a revolving door of hosts/analysts on its own "NBA Countdown" to no avail.
Albert "Scooter" Vertino, senior vice president of programming for Turner Sports, was alarmed when asked about Barkley leaving. "I hope he rethinks that," he said. "We'd like to have Charles as long as he wants to be part of Turner Sports."
Could Sir Charles score as GM as one of the league's 30 clubs? It sure wouldn't be boring.
Other former NBA players have become front office stars. Pat Riley of the Los Angeles Lakers, Joe Dumars of the Detroit Pistons and Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics led their old teams to titles after trading their uniforms for Armani suits. Others have nearly run their clubs into the ground.
The financial challenges of the salary cap have led some owners to hire a new breed of money and metrics-savvy executives who never played or coached, such as 34-year old GM Ryan McDonough of Barkley's old Suns.