NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It takes something big to upstage a Wayne Gretzky press conference at the Stanley Cup Final.
Charles Barkley was just the man for the job.
Sir Charles, the basketball great and a noted hockey fan, flew into Nashville for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at the urging of Jeremy Roenick and crashed a press conference featuring Gretzky and Paul Coffey to announce the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers as the NHL’s top all-time team.
Once he got the microphone and took a place on stage, Barkley made it clear that he preferred the NHL’s post-season to the NBA one he’s been covering as an analyst for TNT.
“The playoffs in hockey have been amazing,” said Barkley. “Obviously, I’m not breaking Earth-shattering news but our NBA playoffs have not been very good. The best thing about my job, when I’m at work for two straight months is … I’m in a room with 20 televisions and I watch pretty much every single hockey game.
“It has not been a lot of fun broadcasting (NBA) games this year.”
Barkley attended Monday’s game at Bridgestone Arena as a guest of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Before the invitation arrived from the league, he had already been thinking about making the trip to Tennessee.
“I’m talking to JR, who I talk to quite a bit. He’s my neighbour in Arizona. He’s like, ‘Man, you’ve got to come to Nashville for a game,”’ said Barkley. “He says, ‘It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.’
“So I’m really looking forward to tonight. They say it’s crazy.”
Barkley first became aware of hockey while growing up in Birmingham, Ala., because of the Bulls – a World Hockey Association team based in the city. After being drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers, he became a Flyers fan.
“My favourite hockey player of all-time was Ron Hextall because I want to know if my guy really cares,” said Barkley. “You watch Ron Hextall play, you know he really wanted to play. So he’s my favourite hockey player.
“There is nothing more nerve-racking than Stanley Cup overtime hockey. It’s the craziest thing you’re ever going to see. That’s one of the reasons I just love the sport.”
Before leaving the stage, Barkley delivered a soliloquy on what makes a team great.
It was particularly relevant with the Pittsburgh Penguins attempting to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.
“The teams that win a lot, they’re the great teams because I think the one thing you guys don’t understand: ‘Man, winning is hard. Winning is hard. Like we all want to win. We all want to win,”’ said Barkley. “When you talk about great teams, teams that win multiple championships, I always put them on a pedestal because these teams that win one time but never win again, that’s cool.
“But to win all the time is a big deal.”