Panthers’ Tkachuk cracks jokes with Shaq, Barkley on Inside The NBA

Florida Panthers superstar Matthew Tkachuk joins Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson to discuss the Panthers' remarkable run, his history with the Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum, and give Shaq a crash course in hockey.

MIAMI — Matthew Tkachuk went to high school with Boston star Jayson Tatum in St. Louis. He now has Miami star Jimmy Butler wearing his Florida Panthers jersey for workouts.

And everyone wants to know who Tkachuk is rooting for in the Boston-Miami matchup in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals. Understandably, the answer is a bit complicated.

“I think the best answer so I have people in St. Louis still on my side — I’m rooting for my two favourite players, Jimmy Butler and Tatum,” Tkachuk said before Game 6 of the Boston-Miami series, the first time he was at a Heat game in person. “I hope they both go off, but for the whole Florida vibe, I hope this building is electric all night.”

Tkachuk appeared on TNT’s pregame show before Game 6; TNT also will broadcast the Stanley Cup Final, which Tkachuk and the Panthers will be in after beating Boston, Toronto and Carolina for the Eastern Conference title.

He hung out with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal before his appearance, and said he couldn’t believe he was there.

“It’s kind of weird and shocking,” Tkachuk said. “I don’t feel like I belong at all.”

The Heat also were the No. 8 seed for the playoffs, just like the Panthers were. And both have been part of surprising postseason runs, after both teams barely got into the playoffs. Butler wore a Tkachuk jersey for a shooting workout — “Crazy,” Tkachuk said — a few days ago, putting photos on social media to show that he’s rooting for the Panthers and the player they acquired last summer who helped turn everything around.

“What our team and their team have done so far in the playoffs has been spectacular,” Tkachuk said. “It’s been so fun to watch their games and have them be able to watch ours and just like both fan bases and all of South Florida rooting on both teams as well. It’s been unreal.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.