Guest Article By: Shaun Ferguson
The NBA has some of the most outspoken players of any major sport, and that’s a good thing… for the NHL.In the past year, current and former NBA players, coaches, and personalities have been some of the most outspoken people in sports. LeBron James formally endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, Russell Westbrook has called Kevin Durant a cupcake, and of course, Lavar Ball…nothing else needs to be said.
All of these crazy personalities all fighting for air time, is usually a good thing for the NBA. People are interested in celebrities and when they do crazy things, people pay attention. This is part of what makes the NBA such a marketable sport, the reality t.v like voices that go along with it. That plan goes a little awry when one of those voices jumps ship however.
Charles Barkley, one of the most outspoken players of all time, has declared his love for the NHL and his pity for the NBA.
That’s right, even Charles Barkley, a man who was paid to play professional basketball and is now paid by TNT to watch and comment on pro basketball, is sick of the NBA playoffs. And the NHL is taking full advantage.
It is no secret that the NBA playoffs where not the most exciting. Besides the finals, the NBA playoffs where a cakewalk for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Meanwhile the NHL Playoffs were filled with excitement, and Charles Barkley took notice.
“I’m just glad to be here because the NBA playoffs have not been great, while the Stanley Cup playoffs have been amazing,” Barkley told Mike Milbury of NBC in a live interview during game four of the Cup finals.
Barkley also told ESPN that hockey analyst Barry Melrose was the “best analyst on television,” said that NBA players are “wussies” unlike NHL players, and in a press conference with Wayne Gretzky said that the best part of his job this spring has been being able to watch the NHL playoffs while in the studio. This was the outspoken voice the NHL had been waiting for.
In hockey, and in the NHL this would never happen. Charles Barkley is well-known for his famous Nike commercial in which he proclaimed “I am not a role model.” Well, that’s the exact opposite of what NHL players are taught to believe. NHL players rarely say anything bad about the league that has given them so much and are taught from day one to be humble.
This is a double-edged sword as the NHL rarely has bad press due to players, but it also means you get the same generic answers from players every night. The same boring answers about teamwork are uninteresting to people. But, when you have people like Lavar Ball in the NBA telling Michael Jordan he would beat him one on one, now that gets people excited. The NBA’s philosophy is more of a “any press is good press” deal.
Gary Bettman and the NHL, forever grateful for a spokesperson like Barkley, personally invited him to game four of the Cup final in Nashville and made sure to get Barkley enough TV time to brag about the NHL playoffs. Between a press conference with Gretzky, and interviews with NBC and CBC, Barkley somehow found time to watch the actual game.
It would seem that the good press from Barkley paid off for the NHL as ratings for the Cup final were the highest ever for a final without any of the original six teams. That seems like an even bigger deal when you consider that Nashville is considered a “non-hockey” market and Pittsburgh is a smaller hockey market.
Hockey may never be as big of a worldwide market as basketball, and may never have the outspoken players like the NBA. But they needed someone to be a spokesperson that is willing to say controversial things to attract attention and press, someone like Charles Barkley.
Shaun Ferguson is currently completing his honours degree in Media, Information, and Technoculture (MIT) at Western University. Shaun has worked in various marketing roles since he graduated high school and currently works at an ad-tech company in Toronto. Shaun loves anything sports related and can be found watching or playing sports, writing, or travelling in his free time. Follow him on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram