TNT recently aired a four-part documentary on its award-winning show, Inside the NBA on TNT. Each episode highlighted a specific member of the cast and how the show grew after they came, while also highlighting the people behind the scenes and viral moments from the show. This, and icons like Snoop Dogg and Common, talking about what the show means to them made it a great way to show how much the show has done for not just sports, but culture itself. So here are my recap and favorite moments from the documentary.
The first episode focused on “The Traffic Cop” Ernie Johnson. Johnson joined TNT in 1990 and to this day remains the glue that holds the show together. Ernie is the one that controls the kids at heart that are Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith. The episode covered his battle with cancer, and how despite everything he was going through still did the show, and did it at the highest level. It also showcased younger Ernie (otherwise knows as “Elevator Ernie”) and how his father helped lead him into becoming the sports host he is today. Without Ernie, there would be no show.
However, Ernie didn’t fly solo for too long, as “The Role Player” Kenny “The Jett” Smith joined Ernie after his retirement. Kenny was a solid NBA player who helped Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets win back-to-back championships. Kenny and Ernie’s chemistry was off the charts. They both provided insightful knowledge and helped the show take off. Kenny understood what he needed to do to make the show great, and that became very important when another former player joined the show, Charles Barkley.
“The Entertainer” Charles Barkley was the second former player to join the show. Barkley was an NBA MVP who entertained people on and off the court during his playing days. TNT was able to sway him away from NBC Sports and it changed everything. The show began to become more about overall entertainment compared to the usual just pure basketball way most shows went. Barkley was hilarious, and him being so easy to prank made the show a must-watch. The documentary also showed how Barkley was never afraid to voice his opinion. He’d tell a player if he flat out “sucked” and that is what made Chuck so entertaining. However, little did the show know that there was one last missing piece.
“The Little Brother”, “The Diesel”, “Superman” (whatever nickname he goes by to you), Shaquille O’Neal was the fourth and (for now) the final member to join Inside The NBA. Shaquille O’Neal was one of the most dominant big men to ever play in the NBA. He and Kobe were the 1-2 punch that delivered a 3 peat to LA. In Miami Shaq and now fellow TNT member, Dwayne Wade, combined for a championship of their own. But throughout his playing career, Shaq was hilarious. He had some of the most iconic interviews the NBA has ever seen. So when he retired TNT got him. The documentary showed how the first three weeks he joined were shows that didn’t live up to Inside’s usual standards. The chemistry was off. But after that Shaq fit in and his constant bickering and fights and fun with Charles gave the show a new element. An element that made the show feel like an unscripted sitcom.
And while these 4 guys are incredible, they themselves give as much credit to the crew. All the directors, producers, and management included in the documentary help make the show what it is, particularly, producer Tim Kiely (a.k.a TK). TK wanted to go away from the usual read a teleprompter and show highlights and make the show unscripted and entertaining. His philosophy and willingness to change the game is the main reason Inside the NBA is what it is today. And for that, as someone who watches the show every week, I thank him and I’m sure many other fans of Inside the NBA do as well.
Overall “The Inside Story” documentary on “Inside The NBA on TNT” provided great insight into how the show became the greatest sports show of all time. Whether you’re an NBA super fan or just a casual one, you can always enjoy Ernie, Shaq, Chuck, and Kenny presenting basketball and entertainment their own way: The Inside Way.
Want to learn more about Ernie Johnson? Check out this throwback interview with Ernie in October of 2019: https://youtu.be/YIxhQoPVwNA.