CHARLES Barkley attended Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final yesterday and he couldn’t hide his disappointment that the NBA Finals were nowhere near as exciting as what was on show in Nashville.
At a break during Pittsburgh’s 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, Barkley was interviewed by NBC Sports and gave a stunning endorsement to the NHL.
“I’m glad to be here because the NBA Playoffs have not been great,” the NBA commentator and 11-time NBA All-Star said.
“But the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been amazing.”
In front of a rowdy, loud and star-studded Nashville crowd, Barkley compared the incredible atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena in ‘Music City’ to that of Chicago when Michael Jordan’s Bulls were at their peak.
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The Predators used their home rink advantage to claw their way back from two games down in the Stanley Cup Final against the Penguins to now be on level terms at 2-2 in the series, heading back to Pittsburgh for Game 5.
The storylines in this Stanley Cup Final are outstanding. There’s the fact Nashville have never been to a Stanley Cup Final, that they barely even clinched a wildcard spot in playoffs, that the state of Tennessee has never won a national professional sporting championship, and that Predators star P.K. Subban is locked in a fierce trash-talking battle with Pittsburgh’s favourite son and two-time Stanley Cup champion, Sidney Crosby. And that’s just to name a few talking points of this thrilling series.
It’s all in stark contrast to the NBA Finals where the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers have been favourites for a third consecutive championship showdown all season, and predictably eased their way through the playoffs to be facing off once again for the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The difference this time round though is Golden State’s huge signing of 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City Thunder, which with two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry, as well as a mostly unchanged starting team from last season, has led to the Warriors dominating the Cavaliers so far in the Finals and leading the series 2-0. It’s not that Cleveland are playing badly, or don’t have stars of their own — hello LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love — it’s just an old-fashioned mismatch with the Cavaliers simply unable to stop Golden State’s many offensive weapons.
“Thank god for the NHL playoffs, that’s what I’ve been watching in the back instead of these blowouts,” Barkley said of the NBA playoffs during Golden State’s series sweep of Utah back in May.
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Barkley was invited to ‘Smashville’ by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after that comment, and it seems the NHL have found a great ambassador in the NBA TNT analyst, who laid out exactly why he’s been so swept up in Stanley Cup Final fever.
“Number one, you have no idea who is going to win,” Barkley said.
“There’s not a single person who thought the Nashville Predators would be playing for the Stanley Cup. I love that. When the regular season ends, anybody has a chance.
“Out of all the things in sports, basketball, baseball, football, sudden death in hockey is the most exciting thing in sports. Plain and simple.”
But is Barkley worried about what his bosses will think about him spruiking NHL’s showcase finale more than the NBA Finals that he is paid to cover?
“They can’t fire me, because they’ve got to pay me,” Barkley said defiantly.
“That’s why I signed a long-term deal.”
The basketball Hall of Famer heads back to Cleveland for Game 3 of the NBA Finals, tipping off at 11am AEST, Thursday morning.
The puck drops in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday, 10am AEST.